These are stressful times for all of us. The pandemic, as well as daily life during these uncertain times is testing our emotional resilience. Here are three strategies you can add to your self-care toolbox which will help manage your anxiety and limit worry during all of this uncertainty.
1. Stay in the Present Moment
It is easy to be in our head too much, worrying about the past or the future and feeling strung out between the two. It is easy to feel that you are spiraling, and your anxiety is growing. It is easy to get distracted and obsessively follow the news or social media stories and forget about everything else.
Staying in the moment means being present to the here and now. It means not being distracted by the things we cannot control but rather, engaging with what is. We do not have control over the outside world, but we do have control over what is inside of us.
Instead of filling your mind with worrisome news, look at what is going on right in front of you. Get in touch with your senses. What can you see, hear, touch, taste and smell right now? Play with your kids or your pets, cook a new recipe, or take a warm bath. In this way, you are tending to your physical and emotional needs, and this helps you to stay out of your head and stay in the now moment.
During challenging times, pay attention to your body signals like shallow breathing, feeling shaky, feeling chest tightness or lightheadedness. Try not to see these signals as something additional to worry about, but rather as signs that alert you to take a break.
Pause and get still. Be there for yourself.
Reconnect with what is going on around you. Practice a grounding technique by focusing on those five senses and your breath.
2. Feel and Accept Your Feelings
We all experience an increase in uncomfortable feelings during challenging times. If we have to stay at home, there are fewer distractions to take our mind off fearful thoughts and difficult emotions. But remember we are meant to feel our feelings.
Fighting your feelings and running away from them will create more stress.
Let your feelings happen. It will not feel comfortable right away or be easy, but resisting feelings will in the end, be more painful.
Stop telling yourself that you should not feel a certain feeling, or that you are weak or too sensitive or being ridiculous. Stop shaming yourself for feeling whatever you are feeling.
When we invalidate or ignore our feelings, it is harmful to our mental well-being. It breaks down our self-esteem and leaves us feeling defective and alone. It creates a disconnection from ourselves that can lead us to feel confused about our decisions because we no longer know how we feel or what we want.
Staying mentally healthy during difficult times requires you to feel your feelings and to process them, which means not fighting or avoiding them.
3. Engage in Something Meaningful
It is important for our mental well-being is to engage in something meaningful.
When we learn not to make our feelings a problem, it creates the space we need to engage with something meaningful, something that is important to us, and something that brings us joy.
We can choose something new, something fun or active, or something creative. We can come up with new projects or can focus on being productive. We can improve our relationships by having some fun or being caring toward each other. We can take time to play with our kids and pets.
This is not about denying or avoiding the realities of a difficult situation. It is about preserving the mental energy needed to deal with it in the most effective and compassionate way possible.
Whatever it is, choose something. Get present and engage with it. It will take your mind off things. It will give you a break.
A big part of preserving our mental energy and health, is maintaining a sense of purpose in the face of a crisis. So remember, we must stay in the moment as much as possible, feel our feelings, accept ourselves and accept where we are in this process of adjustment and adaption.
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW
Carol Van Kampen, LMSW is a individual private practice psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, depression, grief and trauma treatment at Marsh Psychology Group. Contact her at marshpsychologygroup.com