As I feel the anxiety of the unknown creeping in, my thoughts flash to how so many others before me must have felt this way throughout history … past pandemics, wars … in the big scheme how lucky I am… to have a job, a roof over my head, food and loved ones. And still the anxiety can creep in. What will happen? To my job, my company. Will I be okay? Will my loved ones be okay? Will the world be okay?
How can we foster that resilience and connection in uncertain times? How can we make sure we are exercising precaution but not paranoia? How can we manage our anxiety when we may feel trapped and scared?
Here are three easy things you can start integrating right now.
1) Just Breathe: It sounds simple, but chances are, as the anxiety is creeping in, your breathing is becoming shallow. Shallow breathing means you’re not getting as much nourishing oxygen as you could be. Try this on for size. Inhale through the nose to a slow count of 4, exhale through the nose to a slow count of 6. Repeat 3 times. How do you feel now? Maybe a little less anxious? Deep and slow diaphragmatic breathing calms your entire nervous system, helps build resilience to stress and boosts your immune system. And I know we could all use a little of that.
2) 3-Minute Breathing Space Exercise: Taking this idea of breathing a step further, you can practice a mindfulness exercise called a 3-minute breathing space. Here’s how it goes. Continue that gentle breathing you were practicing in #1 and then on your next breath simply notice your thoughts. Notice them without judgment, perhaps even with compassion. Just say, “Oh, that was a thought about what might happen in the future.” Next, turn to observing your emotions. What do you feel? Once again notice them without judgment and perhaps even with a little compassion. Next, turn to your body and notice what physical sensations there are … again without judgments. “Oh, that’s a knot in my stomach, how interesting.” Finally, take in your body as a whole and notice thoughts, emotions as well as physical sensations and continue that deep slow breathing. Try this exercise for about 3 minutes once or twice a day or whenever you are feeling a little anxious. The ultimate goal is for this to become an automatic practice that helps you better tune in with what you are experiencing in the moment so that the day doesn’t come to an end and you suddenly realize you were tense all day, but rather you can notice and address tension, stress, anxiety and other difficult emotions as they come up in the moment.
3) Practice self-compassion: We touched on this in #2, this idea of observing thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without judgment and better yet with compassion. But what does it really mean to practice compassion? To me, it means being kind to myself and treating myself as I would a dear friend. My favorite tool to practice self-compassion is a self-compassion break as follows.
First, simply take a deep breath and say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.” Other options include “This hurts” or “This is stress.” What you are doing here is acknowledging what is happening in the present moment. This acknowledgment is mindfulness in contrast to feeling overwhelmed the whole day and not realizing you were stressed until the end of the day when you collapse, exhausted.
Second, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life. That’s common humanity. You could say to yourself “I’m not alone. Others are just like me.” Or “We all struggle in our lives.” When we are suffering, we can feel alone.
Finally, offer yourself some compassion. This could be putting your hands over your heart, or wherever feels soothing and just feeling the warmth and gentle touch of your hands. And then perhaps offering yourself some words of loving kindness, such as “May I be kind to myself” or “May I give myself what I need.” If you’re having difficulty finding the right words, imagine what you would say to a friend or loved one in need and perhaps gently try offering yourself that same message from the heart.
Remember this too shall pass and as we go through this journey we have a choice – to get lost in a sea of fear and panic or to see it as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection, to learn to surf the waves, to find connection in creative ways, to remember how connected we all truly are. Stay safe and be well.
“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it” Maya Angelou