When lockdowns were first announced over a year ago there were anxieties about what that meant and how we would adapt. There were worries about our relationships, the health of our loved ones, the education of our children, and TOILET PAPER! WHAT???!! You’re telling me I have to use a recycled, single-ply, commercial blend now too??? The creature comforts we had become accustomed to had been yanked out from under us in one fell swoop. Gone.
But, like the very good humans we are, we adapted the best we could. We adjusted. This new way of life certainly did not come without its own stressors and fears. The pandemic has significantly changed our lives in all aspects. We have lost loved ones and members of our community. We have lost jobs and watched the financial volatility that comes with that continue to play out. Our children have suffered from lack of social interaction, structure, and stability that school provides. It’s no wonder that anxiety, depression, stress, addictions and a host of other problems have become more prevalent in our communities. We’re lonely, burned out, missing our loved ones and struggling to know what the heck we can turn to help us cope when all our usual coping mechanisms have been taken away.
You’re probably thinking, “If this is supposed to be a pep talk, would you please segue to the peppy part?”
There is good news! With every new vaccination, things are very slowly shifting back to “normal,” whatever that means. We’re going to get there very soon! Back to the social fabric of our lives. Back to our morning commute podcasts. Back to normal clothes and normal haircuts. We get to see smiling faces, have hugs, hold hands, laugh together at a regular human-connected distance instead of 6-12 feet across the room. We can date again! We can have family gatherings again! We can get on a plane to go to these gatherings again (for crying out loud)! We get to crawl out of our pandemic cocoons transformed into … who knows… but transformed, nonetheless.
This all sounds great, right? A return to life … ahhhhh.
Feeling anxious about it? Worried about what this means and what this will look like? Apprehensive about giving up some of the comforts you’ve grown accustomed to by staying at home this whole time? Maybe you’re even feeling a little annoyed that you’ve already adjusted to this mess once and now you have to do it again. You’re not alone.
IT’S NORMAL TO FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT CHANGE … even change we’re choosing and know will be healthy for us. Anytime we are faced with uncertainty and question marks in our lives, we feel anxious. Anxiety is what we feel when we don’t know what to do and we can’t plan ahead. we are tasked with providing grounding and predictability for ourselves. Here are some ideas that might help.
1. START A MORNING ROUTINE: I can’t begin to tell you how grounding having a consistent morning routine can be! Don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself. It starts with a consistent sleep schedule, ensuring you are going to bed and waking at the same time every morning. Morning is a fantastic time to spend with yourself and set your intention and pace for the day. Even waking up just an extra 10-15 minutes earlier can make a huge difference!
PRACTICE: instead of hitting the snooze a couple of times only to find yourself rushing to make it to your first Zoom call, try getting up just 10 minutes earlier and doing something that is just for you. Light stretching, deep breathing or relaxation skills, journaling, reading, really anything that helps bring you a sense of steadiness and calm for what you are about to do with your day.
2. EAT BREAKFAST: Ideally, eat a well-balanced breakfast within an hour of waking. This makes sense, right? I mean you’ve likely gone an entire 8 hours or so without food or water. Your body wakes up in a semi-stressed state because it hasn’t eaten for some time. Morning is the time to help your body reset by stabilizing your blood sugar right out of the gate.
PRACTICE: Eating healthy proteins and complex carbs will help stave off the sugar/carb roller coaster and help your mood stay more stable long term so you can manage your stress more effectively.
3. HYDRATE: This sounds simple, but we often forget to drink our water. We all know the
benefits of drinking more water. Did you know it also includes decreasing risk for anxiety and depression too? It’s true! It’s also been found that decreased water intake was associated with greater tension, depression, and confusion for women and men.
PRACTICE: Here’s an easy way to make sure you’re hitting your water goals every day- put rubber bands on your reusable water bottle! Use one rubber band for every full water bottle you want to drink. As you drink up, move one rubber band down to the bottom of your bottle to help you track your consumption. Your goal is to have all your rubber bands at the bottom of your bottle by the end of the day. This is a quick and easy way to not just monitor your water intake, but also to remind you to drink your water. Nifty, right?
4. MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness gets used a lot these days, but do we really know what this means and how to practice it? Mindfulness is essentially focused attention on the present moment WITHOUT JUDGMENT. It allows us to attend to what is going on as it is happening without getting stuck in the “story” about what is happening. It helps you trust the wholeness of the moment itself, not what your brain tries to tell you about the moment.
You might be wondering, “Okay, so how the heck is this supposed to help me manage my anxiety?” Mindfulness helps create a little space between you and your experience of anxiety, so you are able to note it, observe it, and watch it pass on its own instead of getting caught up in your interpretations and judgments about the experience. This does not come naturally to us and it takes practice. But you can do this!
Practicing mindfulness is not an elaborate process. It is something we can do in any given moment no matter where we are or what we are doing. This means you can practice mindfulness anywhere! One of the easiest and most grounding tools you always have accessible to you is your breath. You take it with you everywhere you go.
PRACTICE: Breathe in slowly. Count in your head and make sure the inward breath lasts at least 3 to 5 seconds (say to yourself, "In for 1, 2, 3, ... ). Pay attention to the feeling of the air filling your lungs. Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds (again, keep count). You don't want to feel uncomfortable, but it should last quite a bit longer than an ordinary breath. Breathe out very slowly for 3 to 5 seconds ("Out for 1, 2, 3, ... ). Pretend like you're breathing through a straw to slow yourself down. Repeat the breathing process until you feel calm.
Interested in learning more? Click here to learn how you can get your FREE Mindful Moments Practice Guide.
5. START NOW: We already talked about how anxiety is what we feel when we don’t know what to do. You can help yourself feel more in charge of what’s coming next by taking steps to manage it now, no matter how big or small. By just starting to move toward the change itself through acknowledgement and acceptance you help your brain get on board with what’s coming. Engaging in these grounding steps now will help you feel more of a sense of mastery over the unknown (even though you still have no idea, right?). It provides a sense of predictability, which is calming in and of itself.
PRACTICE: If any or all or these ideas sound like something you want to try, start thinking about what it will look like and take small action steps to help you make these changes. Don’t try to do it all at once! Just baby steps. So, if you want to start drinking more water, try adding a couple of extra glasses per day. Or just let that practice be your focus for a week or two until the habit is set. Then you can move on to your next habit change.
When all else fails, just breathe and know that you are NOT alone in this. We are so close to seeing the other side. My hope is that we remember we are all doing the best we can to manage. It has not been easy, and the transition back will likely come with its own struggles. I hope for you and everyone you encounter practiced kindness and patience. We all carry our own pains and are working through them in our own way. This is what connects us profoundly. More than anything, go slowly. There is no rush to get to wherever we’re going - we’re already on our way! As much as possible, lean back and let yourself flow with the ride.