Written by Yoga Mamas' Counsellor, Lisha Cash, MSW RSW
I want to begin by acknowledging all that is going on in our world right now, and mention that it is great you are spending some time practicing self-care and focusing on your well-being.
Anxiety is experienced by each person in their own way. It is part of our genetic make-up, but, for some, it can be more difficult to manage, while for others, it is easier to cope with. It is important to recognize when we are feeling anxious, what thoughts and situations trigger our anxiety, and how this all resonates in our body. For those of you who experience anxiety and would like to reduce these feelings or better understand them, feel free to try some of the tips listed below.
1. Know your social circle
Understanding who you gravitate to and who you feel supported by is so important. Each person in your life likely plays a different role. You may go to a parent for support, a particular friend to share a laugh with, or a specific family member to cry with. You likely have certain people in your life that are simply your “go-to” for certain life circumstances. Take the time to notice who these people are and what you both do for each other within your relationship. Reach out. Connect. Share. Enjoy. This is important especially when “social distancing” is encouraged. Let’s reframe that thought and think of it as, “physical distancing”. Let's continue to socialize, but in creative ways.
You are doing it today, utilizing technology to connect with an online community that is sharing information, emails and virtual platforms that offer connection. We are so fortunate to have access to connections on a new level. Think about who your support network is, and reach out in whatever means possible. Get creative. Snail mail is still a possibility. But if you enjoy FaceTime or Skype, you can see your friends and family in video format. You could skip the text, and talk on the phone. Whatever you need to do to feel connected to the people who you go to for support, do it.
3. Practice self-care
Take a moment to reflect on things that make you happy or bring joy to your life. Think of activities that you can still do regardless of external factors. Some examples might include going for a walk, having a cup of coffee on the porch, binging on a Netflix show, playing a musical instrument, doing a home workout or baking. There are so many different activities that we often do not have time to fully enjoy because of our hectic life schedules. Let’s try to focus on dedicating time, daily, to those simple, joyful, self-care activities, and make them a priority.
4. Better understand what makes you feel anxious
This tool requires self-reflective time, which is often best completed in a rested state of mind, when we can really focus inward and see what exactly is causing these increased feelings of anxiety. Once we have a better understanding of this, we can start to better manage our exposure to those triggers. For instance, if it is various news reports that seem to heighten your anxiety levels, think about trying to negotiate certain times of day that you are being exposed to that information. Planning this and preparing for the exposure allows you to better control your anxious feelings. You may even couple that with planning to engage in a breathing exercise right after you watch the news. In addition, if there are social media accounts that seem to elevate your anxiety, decide to mute or unfollow them until you are feeling ready to be exposed to their content again, if at all. Understanding what creates your anxiety helps you better control how you manage those feelings.
5. Assign designated worry time
This may seem like it is counter productive, but if you’re spending your day being triggered and worried, it can likely take over so much of your mental capacity and feel exhausting. If you schedule in worry time, you are ultimately deciding to have some control over your anxiety by telling yourself that you will focus on those worried thoughts later, and focus on being present in this moment now. Allowing yourself 15 minutes in your day to worry or think over an anxious thought provides the time and space to do so, when you are ready to combat that topic. This is important because we are not simply saying to dismiss that thought or ignore it, we are saying, acknowledge the thought, understand it’s importance and save it for later, so you can be present in this moment. In addition; if you schedule this worry time, try follow it with a mindfulness exercise.
If you have had any experience with mindfulness-based counselling, you may have gone through a visualization. The purpose of a visualization exercise is to bring awareness inwards, essentially allowing you to feel present in your body and be mindful of your thoughts. Visualizations are great because it can take your mind away from ruminating thoughts and refocus from a more relaxed state of mind. There are so many guided visualization exercises available online or via phone/tablet apps. If you do not have access to those options, it can be as simple as closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in a different place. A place that you find to be calm and beautiful, peaceful and free. It is recommended to couple your visualization with slow, deep breathing, which helps to relax your mind and body.
7. Count your blessings, literally
This exercise is intended to redirect your negative thoughts/self-talk and focus your thoughts on a more positive wavelength. Go over elements of your life that you’re happy and grateful for. More often than not, we tend to ruminate on the negative aspects of our life or our “to do” list. Do your best to calm your mind by thinking about all of the elements in your life that make you happy and that you feel confident in. Negative thoughts may creep in, so try to work on recognizing them, accepting that they exist but, for now, you’ll focus on positive experiences and feelings, and address them during “worry time”. You can also utilize visualization in this practice.
Please note, this exercise is not meant to add to your ruminating thoughts. So, if you feel it could go down that path, please do not practice this method. Also, if you feel that you are not in a place where you can think of anything positive in your life, take a reflective moment to consider seeking outside support. If you are in this mindset then receiving outside support from people you love and trust and/or a professional would be a good next step for your emotional well-being.
8. Read a book (a physical copy, if possible)
Pick up a good book, whether it be an old faithful or something you have had sitting on the sidelines, find one that you will actually enjoy. Don’t wait for that vacation you had in mind, to fully enjoy that book you’ve been waiting to read. Try to choose a book that does not generate any other emotion than happiness/zen. Similar to visualizations, it can be helpful to get lost in a good book, in someone else’s story and to calm a busy mind. If you are reading at bedtime, try to avoid utilizing devices with blue-light, as that is not recommended for your sleep hygiene.
9. Utilize self-care apps
When you are experiencing anxiety, sometimes it is helpful take your mind away from your thoughts and focus on something else that you find soothing. If you’re a music guru you probably already have a great playlist on hand. If not, there are so many platforms that offer various playlists to meet your mood. Focus on a playlist that is calming and does not generate emotional thoughts from past, present or future, and is a tone that resembles what calm feels like to you. You can find music playlists on various apps, or you can head to a meditation app, such as, “The Calm App”, and choose from a library of music or guided meditations. Whatever helps to calm your mind and body.
Mindful meditation exercises can do wonders for your anxiety. Nowadays, you can easily find guided meditations on various websites and apps. When you are creating your meditation space, try to do so with intention. Set the tone of the space to feel as calming as possible.
Here is a quick, simple meditation that you can utilize before bed, to help assist with a more restful sleep:
Put on some calming music, lay in bed, and find a comfortable position.
Closing your eyes, ease into the meditation by taking slow, deep breaths. As you lay on the mattress, begin to feel grounded as you visualize your body slowly sinking into the cushion. Check in with your mind and body. Notice any points in your body where you feel tightness or pain, and breath into those areas. Focus on your breath and let go of any thoughts that may be trying to make their way back into your consciousness. Pay attention to the rising and falling of your breath, notice your chest breathing, and how that feels in your body. Be mindful of any thoughts that have entered your mind, and let them go. Focus on breath for a few more minutes. If you are still not ready for bed and your mind continues to wander, visualize your day. From start to finish, what brought you to this moment. Only take a few minutes to get yourself to this present time, focusing on the important part of your story from the day, and not getting wrapped up in any new thoughts and feelings. Now bring awareness back to your body, slowly starting from the feet to the top of your head. Putting each and every part of your body to rest, every toe and finger all the way up to the last hair on your head. Sinking deeper into the mattress, grounding yourself in the present and focusing on your breath. Allowing yourself to feel rested, and paying only minor attention to fleeting thoughts until you fall asleep.
I hope that some of these tips are helpful in reducing your feelings of anxiety. Thank you for taking the time to practice self-care and focus on your overall healthy and well-being.
Take care everyone,
Lisha Cash offers online counselling so you may continue to practice emotional self care in the comfort of your home.