Want the Best Way To Stop Anxiety Right Now?
As our lives are turned upside down because of the global Coronavirus pandemic, we face overwhelming uncertainties. Emotions rage and fear rattles us to the very core of our mortality. In this time of frantic re-adjustments, most people need instantaneous ways of coping with the ups and downs.
I’ve had my own share of dealing with the COVID-19 roller coaster. Sifting through ever-changing facts and moment to moment behavioral shifts are enough to cause a primal scream to accidentally bubble up out of anyone. A trip to the grocery store is now a battle-like preparation with mask and gloves; a cough or sneeze causes a heart-stopping moment of concern. Social connections have been relegated to a “Brady-Bunch” screen-share of talking heads. So, I’ve been trotting out my own strategies to manage the challenges. As a Personal Development Coach trained in both western and eastern traditions, I combine many methods to help clients overcome traumas. So, what is the best way to manage anxiety in this moment? In this article, I share the top six techniques that I use. Experiment for yourself, then choose what works best for you.
WHAT IS ANXIETY & THE SYMPTOMS?
You may feel far removed from your old self these days and your mind is scattered, so are you familiar with specific telltale signs? Anxiety is an emotional reaction, characterized by inner turmoil and feelings of dread.
Physically you may feel nervousness, tensions, headaches, backaches, fatigue, heart palpitations, indigestion, insomnia, or depression. Mentally, you may be consumed by worries and apprehensions which lead to an inability to process information or make good judgments. The mental health consequences can be worse than getting the virus. In other words, the act of worrying can become your default mechanism; a habit that leaves you in a constant state of chaos and can lead to more long-lasting problems such as panic attacks, memory loss, addictions or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The effect is often preceded by a biological stress response. This “fight or flight” alert mechanism is for your survival, a perfectly normal reaction to danger. It begins in a physical stage of high alert during which adrenalin and cortisol are released to drive energies into your muscles and extremities to enable you to fight or flee the predator. This response is intended for short bursts after which you recover…and survive. But with months of data overload about COVID-19 and mega life changes, you’ve undoubtedly been in a state of stress without relief for way too long, which is not normal. The unfortunate consequence is a suppression of your immune system. Chronic stress is not healthy and can easily turn into a pattern of elevated anxiety!
THE STARTING POINT
To begin, mindfully notice any symptoms you are experiencing. Once you accept signs of fear or anxiety, you may observe a persistent pattern emerging over several days. Schedule a brief, intentional pause twice a day: once in the morning and again every evening to take a physical and mental inventory of your mood. Consider writing down “signs” and keeping a journal to quantify what you are going through. This is the first step in altering potentially debilitating effects. As your awareness increases, you are empowered to use one of these most effective “interrupters” (as I call them) to dial down your apprehensions and improve your overall wellbeing.
SIX SIMPLE METHODS TO STOP ANXIETY
The best “interrupter” is the one you commit to practice daily. So here are six of my simplest and most effective recommendations. Choose one or all:
1. Change Your Focus.
If you’re spending hours a day following every fast-breaking news announcement about the pandemic, you’re going to be in constant distress. Turn off the digital news flow. Listen to your inner voice and end those depleting thoughts of overwhelm or hopelessness by taking deliberate breaks.
Engage in a project that you’ve been wanting to do. Or opt for a self-care activity just for the heck of it. Try a foot massage, take a warm bath, or chill with a cup of herbal tea. Break away from things you know are creating tensions. Shift your attention. Energy follows attention. Ultimately, if you focus on fear and anxiety, you’re going to get more fear and anxiety. So, change it. You have the power!
2. Use Your Breath.
Studies have shown that 70% of the body’s toxins are released through breathing. If you’re uptight, chances are your breath is shallow and you’re not detoxing which exacerbates unsettled feelings. Cells become deprived of adequate oxygen needed to function properly. Emotional upheavals get stored in your body creating energetic blockages that result in aches, pains, and a general malaise.
Begin with several slow deep breaths by inhaling to an unhurried count of 4 and exhaling to a count of 6. Keep your breath in a continuous rhythmic flow which helps quiet your nerves while improving vital life force energy. Within a minute of deep breathing, you’ll feel calmer and renewed.
3. Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose. An example: You’re washing your hands often, so instead of spinning distracting thoughts, stay focused on the bodily sensations of the soap and warm water on your palms. Or right now in this moment, bring your attention to your feet. What do you feel? Look around. What are you seeing in your space? What colors? Shapes? Are you noticing any smells? Tastes? (Of course, make sure you’re smelling and tasting since the absence of these senses are symptoms of COVID-19!)
Meditation gives you permission to take a “time out” from all worries. Welcome this respite from fretting about losing your job, paying your bills, getting enough food for your family, home-schooling your kids, getting the virus, etc. When you meditate, you allow yourself to have peace in that moment. In addition, silencing your mind activates a “feel good” hormone in your body as you enter an integrated state of relaxation.
Resist fighting with your thoughts; instead simply let them come and go. Remain neutral as these bits of energy pass by your consciousness. Meditation is not about squashing thoughts but instead learning how to cultivate a non-reactive, non-emotional relationship with them. I teach my clients to play with the idea of dropping into the gaps between their thoughts without forcing or struggling to do so.
At the end of the meditation whether you practice for seconds or minutes, you’ll function more optimally and creatively. Studies in the neurosciences show that regular meditation rewires the brain to improve the ability to manage emotions in a sustainable way. If you do this meditation daily (for only 14 minutes), I guarantee you will feel progressively more energized. The practice trains body and mind to be in the “zero stress zone,” a stillness of liberation. (If you only have 3 minutes, try this!)
Mindfulness and Meditation allow you to be integrated in the present. Eckhart Tolle calls it the “power of now,” with an opportunity to reset and reboot. The BIG PAUSE of stay-at-home time has provided a chance to reflect on the authentic you and how you want to show up in the world. Mindfulness and meditation guide you effortlessly onto your path.
4. Eat Healthy.
Food is medicine and certain foods contribute to anxiety; others reduce its impact. Sugar-laden sweets, even too much fruit can be stimulating and cause a reaction that mimics stress. Foods that decrease anxiety include Brazil nuts which are anti-inflammatory. If you can tolerate eggs in your diet, they’re a good protein source and soothe your nervous system. Fatty fish, such as salmon, have Omega 3s, which improve metabolism. Dark chocolate (my favorite!) is good for its magnesium, tryptophan, and flavonoids. Fresh whole foods, like leafy greens and colored vegetables provide more nutrient-dense choices. Avoid packaged products. One last point: Vitamin D modulates innate and adaptive immune responses. I take a 5000 IU Vitamin D3 supplement daily, but you can find good sources in fatty fish and seafood, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Or spend time outdoors in the sunshine.
5. Move Your Butt.
The body is not meant to be stagnant and stationary. With increasing levels of stress and anxiety, movement is essential to release tensions. Of course, there are many types of exercises depending on your fitness and interest levels from HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), to Pilates, Yoga, Weights, Qigong. Many people now do workouts from home by taking online classes or using specialized apps. Nature exursions to parks, green spaces, beaches are other desirable choices that increase both enjoyment and health benefits.
For myself, I fast walk outdoors daily (and am fortunate to live in a tropical climate), do yoga (especially sun salutation), Qigong (Golden 8) and I have a rebounder (mini trampoline) for added aerobics. I also do fitness training: squats, lunges, crunches, triceps dips (using my coffee table) and plank. I vary my workouts from day to day, so they’re motivating plus give muscle groups a chance to recover.
The old excuse of “not having enough time to work out” is gone. The new normal is that you have plenty of options. Get going!
Most life coaches don’t mention this, but it’s important that you allow time to play. George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stopped playing.”
Go ahead and feel like a child. Play games, laugh, have fun. Feel that release. One of my friends confessed that her greatest joy right now is playing Candy Land on Facetime with her 5-year-old niece. Another friend was missing her bridge-playing group, so they moved the games online and haven’t missed a beat as they enjoy the socialization and camaraderie. I just discovered online word games that link me with people all over the world. Play improves brain function, creativity and is uplifting.
Stress and anxiety are part of natural, human vulnerabilities. What is unnatural is when you get stuck in these states of agitation causing harm to yourself or others. As you diminish anxiety, life develops a richness and you’re able to see with greater clarity. You become emboldened to define what matters and what is less important as you re-imagine your own existence. An “a-ha” lightning bolt propels you into a dramatic shift in thinking and connects you to a new dimension of your own humanity.
The spread of the virus demonstrated how integrally the world is interconnected. We are all in this together. I believe we’ve entered a quantum leap in our evolution where suddenly we no longer take much for granted. We’ve discontinued our warp-speed hustle to the next activity or to reach the gold ring of success (which had exacerbated our stress levels). We’re now questioning everyday choices; spending more time with family; cherishing the little things that used to slip by unnoticed. As we re-enter places of business wearing masks, we’re grateful for the opportunity to buy or give; to interact with others in our local communities even at a distance. Staff are more attentive. We’re given more space to show who we really are. In my heart, I trust we each possess the abilities to be resilient, inventive, expansive, and caring. I’m filled with optimism that our transformation will ultimately be a recognition that we create our own world and collectively it will be beneficial to all. What do you believe? Please share your thoughts.