The events of early 2020 have, and continue to, created a wave of anxiety throughout the globe. A lot of things have changed in just a few short weeks and it can be really difficult to manage the anxiety and not let it overwhelm your emotions. But we have found some things that can hopefully help you keep a calm head and a peaceful heart, during this and any future crisis you may face.
First of all, it’s essential that you offer yourself some compassion. Realize that you have never faced this before, and that anxiety is a natural reaction to change and uncertainty. It’s important that we have a healthy level of anxiety to keep us alert to dangers headed our way.
We run into challenges though when we let this anxiety sit in the driver’s seat of our mind, and that’s why we are sharing these strategies with you. If right now, you feel that way, don’t be angry with yourself. Don’t put yourself down. This is simply a new circumstance.
You are the driver
When you move to a new house, it’s always a little uncomfortable at first. You might feel frustrated at the things you liked about your old house and neighborhood that the new place doesn’t have. You will likely feel a lot of anxiety about meeting new neighbors, having your kids make new friends, and trying to find a new favorite Mexican restaurant. But as you keep trying, soon you have things that you are really grateful for in this new circumstance. You find that your new reality has a lot of meaning and joy to offer you.
In any disruptive change, managing anxiety comes down to three things:
We have a strategy for you to try in each of these categories to help you keep anxiety from kicking you out of the driver’s seat of your life. The benefits of managing your anxiety are huge, and not just for you. Your entire household will appreciate if you can be the voice of reason and calm instead of doom and gloom. You will get better sleep, be more generous with others, and lessen the amount of time you spend overwhelmed and stressed out.
Anxiety is often a feeling that the future is going to be terrible. It is an overwhelming sense that danger is headed for you and is going to upend your life. Even if nothing is wrong that you can point a finger to, anxiety is a real, physical reaction to fear of the future. One way to calm down your racing heart is practicing presence.
We have transformed the virtue of “being informed” into “being constantly plugged in”. Misinformation from non-credible news sites, comparison due to social media, and a wearing down of our brain power due to reading from a screen are all thieves of your happiness and well-being, as well as your ability to be present in your life.
During this global crisis, as well as if you are facing any personal crises, give yourself a break. Unplug yourself from the constant social media feed and scrolling through headlines telling you to be afraid, to distance yourself, to prepare for the worst. We literally cannot think clearly when we have all of that feeding into our minds.
Here are some things you could do to help you:
- Turn off all screens at least 1 hour before you go to sleep and spend that time reading a book or talking with a family member
- Schedule increments in the day for you to check notifications, but don’t turn to your phone just because you are looking for something to do. Most smartphones have timers on them that can remind you of your goal to decrease your screen time
- Pay attention to how you feel when you are scrolling. You might not have even realized something affected you and made your anxiety spike. If you feel that, use it as a cue to switch to something that fills your mind with positive. It will bring you back to the moment.
Engage with the present. Fear and anxiety are about the future. Give yourself a break from thinking about the future and being fueled by others’ speculations about the future. The here and now is where joy is available.
Have you ever played the game Tetris? Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” talked about an experiment with the game Tetris. Participants played the game, and then for hours afterwards still saw shapes fitting together over and over. This happened because their brain got stuck in a pattern loop.
Shawn talked about how if your brain gets stuck in a pattern loop of seeing negative things, it can continue long after you are done reading it. If you spend an hour scrolling and reading anxiety-inducing headlines, and then you leave to go have dinner with your spouse and kids, your brain can still get stuck in seeing everything that is wrong and threatening. Anxiety is in the driver’s seat, and before you’ve realized you are feeling anxious, you have yelled at your kids and called your spouse an idiot. We have all been there, you’re not alone.
But you have the power to prevent it from happening by instead getting your brain in a pattern loop of looking for the good. Looking for the hopeful. Looking for the joy.
Here is one way to add a pattern of gratitude to your day:
- Get three sticky notes in the morning and write one thing you are grateful for today on each of them.
- Place one on the bathroom mirror, one on the fridge door, and one wherever you work. Place them in places where you are bound to see them throughout the day.
- Take a few seconds each time you see one of your sticky notes to just smile at it and express gratitude in your heart for that thing.
If you talk to someone who has never had strong, overwhelming anxiety they may mistakenly give you advice to just power through it and ignore it. But suppressing anxiety only turns it into a backseat driver – it’s still telling you where to go and how to feel even if you aren’t aware that it is still in control.
Perspective is all about recognizing the anxiety is here, but not letting it get in the car at all with you. It’s about acknowledging and accepting an uncertain future, but consciously choosing to see it as something manageable. You have survived 100% of the uncertain, threatening things you have had in your life so far, and you can do this too.
Once in a book I read on a woman in the Wild West days, the author started a new sentence by saying “After she had five kids…” It was interesting how 45 months of pregnancy, childbirth, and probably a lot of struggle and heartache became half a sentence. The perspective of that was profound.
What we are facing in the world right now is frightening and anxiety-inducing, no doubt about it. But in our individual memoirs, this moment could be summed up as the start of the sentence that leads into the next great thing.
- Write the sentence that you would like to have said in your memoir about this crisis
- Write only one sentence, otherwise you may head down the rabbit hole of imagining the worst
- Try defining this time for you as simply a new circumstance that changed your life for the better
Having anxiety is a sign that you deeply care. You care about your loved ones, you care about your community, you care about your country, and you care about yourself. Anxiety will arise as a natural reaction to having the things you care about threatened, but it doesn’t need to overwhelm you.
Try these three things today:
- Unplug from the news and social media
- Put sticky notes of things you are grateful for around your home/work
- Write the sentence of how you want this short period of time to be remembered in your memoir
Breathe deeply, and stay safe out there. We will make it through this together.