Attitudes That Fight Anxiety

Dear friends,
I wanted to reach out to you during this time. I hope that I can share some things over the next few weeks that will help you cope with the anxiety that you may be facing given our current situation with COVID-19. We have a lot of uncertainty right now and you probably have a lot of things on your mind. Taking care of our mental health is always important, but especially, in stressful times. We know that stress has the ability to lower our immune system, so there is no better time than now to work on feeling good. Not only can you feel better but you can increase your chances of staying healthy.
1.First helpful attitude to aim for : It’s ok to be anxious right now. It makes sense that you may be feeling uneasy and anxious with all the news and uncertainty. When anxiety hits it makes sense that we want to get rid of it. We resist feeling anxious because frankly, it feels bad. We naturally try to “calm down” or tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel anxious. However, not only is resisting it very difficulty but it can actually make you feel worse. When you put the demand on yourself to relax or feel better, we feel the pressure and it adds anxiety to other previous concerns. The attitude to aim for is “It is ok to be anxious”. Acknowledging your anxiety helps it to pass. It may look like saying to yourself, “It’s ok to be anxious right now” or “It makes sense that I feel anxious given all the unknown”, or “ I feel anxious because I’m human and I live in an imperfect world”. When you give yourself permission to have your feelings and your experience, part of us relaxes because we have lowered the demand to feel calm. The grace and self-compassion you can give yourself will allow the feelings to pass more quickly and normalize the situation. Like a wave that hits you in the ocean, we can experience the wave of emotions coming at us but then subsiding as we allow the wave emotion to be there instead of trying to fight the force and movement.
2. The next attitude that is helpful is: Plan but don’t stay on guard. As you may have noticed, or even engaged in yourself, are all the preparations that are going on around us. It’s great and smart to plan for what you will need to do and resources that you will need to use in the next days and weeks. But once you have taken reasonable steps within your control, as much as possible, focus on getting back to your regular life and routine. Think about things other than the danger. It may be effortful to redirect your focus to the things that are good, encouraging, and just normal. But it will help your body to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. The “rest and digest” system that tells our bodies that things are ok and that it is ok relax our guard. Checking and focusing on the danger turns on our sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight, flight, or freeze” mechanism. When we stay too long in the fight, flight, and freeze mode our immune system lowers, we feel stressed, and makes it more difficult to think clearly and reasonably. In addition, it lowers our ability to have compassion, with others and ourselves. That leads me to the next step.
3. Act “as if you weren’t anxious”. When we are anxious we stop doing certain things that help us like rest, exercise or self care because we think, “I don’t have time for that! I need to do important things!” or “I need to focus on the danger so that I don’t miss something”. But as discussed that is not helpful in the long run.
So as much as possible try to incorporate these 5 things into your daily routine.
  • Something with the potential for pleasure: Do things that use to give you a sense of enjoyment, a hobby, listen to music, read for pleasure, make a food you like, massage your scalp or feet etc.
  • Do something that gives you sense of accomplishment. This is the time to check something off your list. Is there something you have been meaning to accomplish or take care of? A project you’re working on? Perhaps you need to do something around the house, organize something, or complete an assignment? We usually feel good when we do this and in addition gives us a sense of control and agency.
  • Something with Positive People. Even in the times when you can’t be face to face with someone who is supportive and caring, can you reach out to them via phone call, FaceTime, or a text ? Connecting with others who know and care about you is powerful. It feels good to know you’re not alone. You can also lend support to others and that is equally powerful.
  • Something Physical. The research on this show that it can have better results on mood without the side effects of many medications. When you activate your body you activate different parts of your brain enabling you to activate parts of yourself that allow you to think and feel better. This would be a good time to take a walk, jog, cycle, yoga, or do some weight training.
  • Something Connecting to your Faith/ Spirituality. Research on this is also shows that when people connect with a source greater than themselves, it can have the effect of easing anxiety and depression. Many say that it is reassuring that they are not alone and have a connection with the Devine. This could involve, reading a sacred text, praying, mediating, listening to music, sermon, podcast, and practicing gratitude.
The suggestion that I give my clients is to plan your day the night before. Come up with a flexible schedule that incorporates the above 5 elements. So that way when you get up you have plan of what to do. Try it out as an experiment for the next week and see if this improves your week. My guess is that it will! I wish you the best and am rooting for you in taking good care of yourself.

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