Stress & Anxiety - Simple Tools to Help
Even before SARS-CoV-2 the US was considered to be one of the most stressed populations on the planet. Now stress, fear, anxiety and depression are reaching pandemic proportions…compounded by apprehension about the virus, isolation and uncertainty about what the ‘new normal’ will be after the virus has subsided.
LIFE IS 10% WHAT HAPPENS TO US, AND 90% HOW WE REACT TO IT
There are things we can control, and things we can’t….and it’s hard to stop focusing on things we have no power over, especially because the mind seems drawn there. Surprisingly though, we do have control over where our mind ‘goes’.
My mind can take off on a flight of worry and negativity faster than a horse headed back to the barn. To get back in control I have to recognize that my mind is off on one of its dramas, and then I have to guide it to where I want it to go. The secret is to find and focus on things that I am grateful for. This may sound silly and New-Agey, but it’s extremely powerful, and I find myself drawing on this simple tool quite a bit lately!!
When I catch my mind dragging me down I look around me and find things that are beautiful, and people and things that I am grateful for in my life….and I keep looking for these and feeling grateful until I have changed how I feel—and changed where my mind is focusing.
This is difficult to do at first because the mind will start chatting about the negative stuff right over the top of the positive things you are focusing on, but practice will finally put you in charge. Your mind is feral and it’s not going to comply without a fight! Persist and you will get control.
This is important because it’s our reaction to perceived danger that triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
‘FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT’ & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Humans made it to now, in part, because of a remarkable preservation mechanism, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It saved our ancestors from succumbing to the snacking desires of very large and hungry creatures.
When we sense danger the body readies us for ‘fight-or-flight’ by spiking the release of adrenaline and cortisol so we can run like mad or fight with all our strength. It is the perfect biological reaction to a threat.
The problem is that we aren’t living in prehistoric times anymore and this system (that has our preservation as it’s number one priority) is repeatedly responding to our fears and worries as if we were about to be attacked and eaten. This leads to chronic stress which the body isn’t designed to handle, and creates health conditions like headaches, insomnia, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease and....greater vulnerability to infection.
TOOLS TO HELP
Turn off the television and the news feeds on your phone. Ok, you don’t have to live under a rock, but ration your news intake to a day’s summary.
Use Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for your fears and stressors (at the end of the blog are the URLs for EFT meditations for sleep and stress).
Connect with family and friends by phone or FaceTime etc.
Disperse stress by walking, biking, hiking, swimming, laughing, singing, being in nature, creating something, dancing, doing something kind with no desire for reward, reading a good book or listening to an audiobook, listening to music that makes you want to dance or is so beautiful to you it makes the hairs stand up on your arms, watching movies that make you laugh so hard it hurts, taking a hot bath with Epson Salts, gardening, photography, playing, snuggling with pets, watching birds at a feeder, meditating, yoga….do whatever you enjoy that makes you lose track of time.
Stop believing the negative things your mind is telling you. (At the end of the blog is the URL for a TED talk you might find interesting).
Connect with the earth with your bare feet, now before the ticks arrive!! Grounding can calm anxiety.
Look for the good. Focus on the good. Be grateful.
Be in the moment.
Use breathing techniques to shift your nervous system from sympathetic dominance (stress) to parasympathetic (relaxed and calm):
Close your mouth, place the tip of your tongue in contact with the top of your mouth, just behind your top teeth….and Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds - Hold for 7 seconds - Exhale for a full 8 seconds through your mouth making a whooshing sound - Pause briefly without inhaling then start another round. This natural pause is therapeutic and relaxing. Work up to about 8 rounds several times a day AND whenever you feel anxious or nervous.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Hold your right nostril closed with your thumb and inhale up your left nostril. Pause, and while holding your breath, release the thumb and close your left nostril with your index finger. Then exhale from your right nostril and then inhale up your right nostril, pause, and again while your lungs are full of air, switch your fingers so that your right nostril is closed. Exhale. Repeat this process about 10- 12 times 2-3 times a day. You can slowly increase both the repetitions and sessions to 4-6 x a day.
Take slow deep breaths and repeat the following:
My hands and arms are heavy and warm x 5
My feet and legs are heavy and warm x 5
My abdomen is warm and comfortable x 5
My breathing is deep and even x 5
My heartbeat is calm and regular x 10
My forehead is cool x 5
When I open my eyes, I will remain relaxed and refreshed x 3
Aim for 2-3 sessions a day
SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBS
There are key supplements and herbs that calm. Here are my top 5:
TIME TO TALK TO YOUR THERAPIST
If you are having a difficult time please talk to your therapist. Ask about secure remote sessions.
AM I BEING SELFISH?
Looking after yourself is not being selfish. When I am tempted to put myself last I think about the safety card in the seat pocket of airplanes, it puts taking care of yourself into perspective…."first put the [oxygen] mask on yourself, then help your child or the person next to you." It’s just common-sense, If you are unable to function, how can you help, or be there for others?
Writing this blog has been good. It’s reminded me of things we can all do to feel calm. So I am going to take my own advice, give myself permission to stop….and relax with my favorite book of all time, Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie.
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed”.