It’s ok to feel anxious. This is a scary time we’re living in right now. There is a sense of impending doom, and we don’t yet really understand what is going to happen or what we can control. I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to help myself and how we can all manage the anxiety that comes from living through a difficult and uncertain situation. Here are my top 11 ideas for managing anxiety.
When I work with clients who experience anxiety, one of the things we talk about is the importance of having acceptance of our feelings. Often, when we have painful or negative feelings, like anxiety, we can then beat ourselves up for having these feelings. A former client of mine labeled it “meta anxiety”, having anxiety about having anxiety. When we have a negative response to or judgement of our feeling, it only worsens how we feel. I encourage you to accept how you are feeling. Tell yourself it’s ok to be feeling anxious right now. It absolutely makes sense. Have care and compassion for yourself and for your distress.
In whatever ways feel safe and comfortable to you now, move your body. It’s one of the best ways to combat feelings of anxiety and stress. Go to the gym, if that feels ok to you. Take a walk. Do a workout on YouTube. Dance around your living room. Just move and groove and sweat. This will help you blow out feelings of stress, and it will also release endorphins to increase your feelings of contentment. Exercise also strengthens your immune system.
If you have a meditation practice, keep it going. Meditate daily if at all possible. This will help you calm and center yourself. It will also give your mind and body a break from worry. If you don’t currently meditate, this would be a great time to start. Apps such as Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace are all good places to start, as are meditation videos on YouTube. Just start with 5 or 10 minutes a day if you are getting started and build up from there.
4) Monitor Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant and a drug. It mimics symptoms of anxiety by making us feel nervous and increasing our heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration. Caffeine stays active in our bodies quite a long time. Once we consume it, it impacts us for a minimum of 6 hours. So, I would recommend that you keep your caffeine consumption low currently and not drink any after early afternoon to ensure you sleep well.
When we are stressed or worried, many of us also turn to alcohol. If you drink, watch how much you are drinking and try not to consume too much. When we drink, we can have a rebound effect from it the next day- which can increase symptoms of anxiety or depression. So, while it may feel good to drink more in the short-term, it may be increasing your anxiety overall.
5) Limit your News Consumption
When 9/11 happened, my father was quite teary for days after the attacks. When I explored what he was doing, I realized he was almost continuously watching the news and re-traumatizing himself regularly by what he was hearing and seeing.
When we take in scary or stressful information, it impacts us. I strongly encourage you to really limit your news consumption. Only read it online once a day or watch the news only at night. Or read a newspaper. (Please consider buying a subscription to a newspaper, if you can. They provide such an imperative public service, especially during times like this.) Things will not change so much in a single day and updating yourself once each day should be sufficient. This will also help you keep your anxiety lower than it might be with more frequent information.
6) Connect with People you Care About
Humans are social creatures. We like to be around other people and feed off of this. Social distancing is very necessary right now, but it is difficult and can lead to feelings of loneliness or depression. Be in touch with friends and family. Stay in contact, and feel connected. You have many people in your life you care about and who care about you. This is an important time to call, text, email, Skype, etc. Schedule dates with family and friends, and if it’s possible, do it over video chat. This is the best way to connect with people if we can’t meet in person. This will help you feel better and less isolated.
7) Focus on what you can Control
There are still many unknowns with the coronavirus. Some things are within your control, and many others are not. Try to focus on the things you can control.
8) Take Good Care of your Body
Try to eat well and get enough rest. This is hugely important during a time of stress. And this keeps your immune system healthy.
9) Do Things that Bring you Pleasure
Make sure you are doing things that bring you pleasure. Read, listen to music, watch good shows and movies. Cook. Burn candles. Play games. Paint, draw, write. Be in nature. Whatever you enjoy- keep doing it.
10) Make and Stick to a Routine
This is not one snow day. This is a much longer period of uncertainty and possibly not working or having limited work. It is incredibly important that you have a daily routine and stick to it. Wake up at a decent time. Have time for all your meals. Schedule work or productive activities you can do. Schedule time to exercise, meditate, read, create, or do the pleasurable things you enjoy. And go to bed at a decent time. Make different schedules for weekdays and weekends if you’d like. And shower at least every day or two. All these activities will help you feel human and more normal during these very abnormal times. This is all part of controlling what you can control.
11) Be Grateful
Take time each night to reflect on the day and things for which you are grateful. They can be small or big things. When things feel scary overall, it’s even more important than usual to have gratitude. It’s powerful to reflect on what you appreciate each day and to let those positive feelings sink into your body and mind.
These are my top 10 ideas for helping you deal with anxiety. What else do you find helpful?
Recently, I heard the new song by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Be Afraid. (Check them out, if you haven’t heard them. They’re great. I especially love If We Were Vampires.) The lyric that jumped out at me was, “Be afraid, very afraid, but do it anyway.” Yes! This is what it means to be brave, to have courage.
It really resonated with me and some of my personal experiences.
When I left my full-time job, I had worked for 20 years for other people but had also been feeling pulled to take my career in a somewhat different direction. I wanted to support well-being in a more programmatic, more systematic, more proactive and preventative way. This didn’t fit with my job, and I wasn’t able to make the shift within boundaries that already existed. So I resigned, wanting to do things my way, and I started my business, Thrive Well-being.
My colleagues kept commenting on how brave I was, how they could never do this. Even my husband said this. The funny thing was, I really didn’t feel brave at all. I felt scared shitless- but I was going to do it anyway. I always pictured that someone who felt brave would, at least internally, feel strong and confident. This wasn’t how I felt at all!
After reflecting more, and doing some reading, I realized I WAS brave. Being really scared and still moving forward IS the definition of courage.
I love Brene Brown. If you’re not familiar with her works, please do yourself a huge favor and get one of her books or watch her TED talks. She’s written about the importance of being vulnerable-and the courage it takes to do so. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead is a book I love and return to again and again.
She opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who is at worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I thought about this quote a lot while moving out of my job and planning for my new company. I felt I had to be the person in the arena, covered in sweat and blood from my efforts. I had to take risks and be vulnerable. Starting a business definitely requires vulnerability. There is a lot of risk and doubt. What if I fail? What if leaving my job is the biggest mistake of my life? What if no one thinks I can help them thrive and improve their well-being? What if I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not charismatic enough?
To start my business, I had to put myself out there again and again, do things I had never done before as a therapist and professor. I had to design and build a website. I had to network. I had to start presenting more to get my name out there. I had to ask people for their business. I had to attend conferences in worlds that were new to me. I had to identify as an entrepreneur and join their groups.
I listened to the drive inside of me and followed my vision. This energized me and allowed me to follow this new path. And I’ve been loving it. I’m having fun and feel excited to do what I’m now doing. Looking back, I see now how brave I was, even though I felt anything but courageous at the time. And I’m so grateful I took this risk, even when I felt somewhat terrified.
Toward the end of her book, Brene Brown says, “But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
Yes! I did this, and it paid off for me in spades with invigorating work and increased happiness and well-being. I couldn’t agree more!!
It takes courage to do big things, like leaving your job and starting a business. But, it also takes courage for the small things that we do all the time. It takes courage to talk to a friend who hurt your feelings. It takes courage to raise your hand in class or volunteer to take on an additional responsibility at work. It takes courage to learn and to grow.
How can you be brave in your life? What small step can you take now, even if you are scared shitless?