Bonus Post! Coping With Anxiety During the Unknown

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Times of crisis can bring up a lot of emotions ranging from concern to fear, to stress about money all the way to survival.  Each brings about it’s own underlying anxiety.  But this isn’t the time to sink into that type of fear whether it is depression about what is and how we got here or anxiety about what is coming next and how we will function again.  This is the time to take it step by step until we can see the big picture.

I am really good at creating scenarios to fear—it’s pretty much in my DNA, so I have spent a lot of time learning how to cope through different modes of anxiety from the day to day to the big issues.  I’ve also had a lot of experience working through things I’ve created on my own.  Regardless of what is causing the anxiety for you, here are some tips to get through that have helped me over time:

Anything to help keep you in touch with your senses.  A good exercise is to remember is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method.  Talked about from the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, it’s a simple but highly effective technique.  The first thing is to acknowledge FIVE things you can see around you—anything in your surroundings.  Then acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you.  Then acknowledge THREE things you can hear.  Then acknowledge TWO things you can smell.  Finally, acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.  It’s a great way to connect with your body and get out of your mind, especially when your mind is running wild.

Another technique is to focus specifically on breathing.  I like the 1:2 technique or the square breathing technique.  For 1:2 breathing simply inhale for a given amount of time and then exhale twice as long.  So if you inhale for 2 seconds, exhale for 4.  Make sure you count each time!  For square breathing, also called box breathing, it is simply a 4 part breath of 4 counts each.  So you inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold the breath for 4 seconds.

Another technique I like is to shift the thinking toward things I am able to do.  So much of anxiety is internalized worry about a future we can’t see.  When we stop that train of thought and look for the actionable steps we can take, it gives us a sense of accomplishment as well as a tangible result.  It helps to get the mind off of the things we can’t even see let alone control.

I also like progressive muscle relaxation but I have found that I need this to be a guided session.  It is simply matter of walking your mind through your muscle system and telling it to relax but I find that I get distracted easily if I try to do it on my own.  So, it’s effective but I personally need help with it.

I also like to pick a different activity.  Rather than get stuck in your mind chewing on scenarios, start to look for something to do like painting, coloring, cooking, maybe even reading.  Something to distract the mind from merely thinking, thinking with purpose and giving yourself a tangible activity helps to direct some of that energy.

Getting moving works as well.  It doesn’t matter if it’s dancing, hopping around with your kid, taking a walk around the block, biking down a trail, exercising at home, or cleaning the house—moving the body is physically good for you, but it takes the attention away from the thoughts.  Ultimately that is the goal, getting out of your head.

If you’re unable to take the time every day to move your body, then take the time to invest in good fuel.  Rather than eating tons of fast food, take the time to prepare healthy snacks and meals.  Avoiding processed foods helps minimize chemicals going in that can impact mood and health.

Another technique is meditation.  There are tons of free resources available online so do a quick search and try a few out.  It may take a while to find a meditation that works for you but keep looking until you do.  When you find something that works well for you, then use it.  Even if you find yourself distracted during that time frame, the intention to pause the self-talk will help redirect some of that anxious energy.

One last thing that has helped me is to give myself time.  I’m talking about those moments when things get really stressful and nothing works.  You feel crazed and caged and you’re repeating thoughts over and over again.  When I find myself in that frame of mind, I set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and I let my mind run wild.  No matter how insane the thoughts may be, I let them come.  I let each one roll and roll and boil and progress to as scary a scenario as I can think of.  Once that timer goes off, I’m done.  I wrap up quickly and tell myself that it’s time to breathe again and face reality.  It’s not time to be afraid anymore, it’s time to pick a new thought.

Overall, I think the strategy you use is going to be very personal.  It’s going to depend on what you’re feeling in that moment because our anxiety changes minute to minute.  But the key is to recognize where you’re at as soon as possible and to use a tool to help you through.  Use as many tools as you need to until you feel like you’re level again.  Remember you’ve got this.  One step at a time, one day at a time, we’ve all got this.

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