Calming an Anxious Mind

Sometimes it can seem as though our minds never turns off. During these times most recently, we may find that we have ruminating thoughts about the state of our world, our nation, our state, our county, and lastly but certainly not least–our households. Trying to maintain a positive attitude at home or with others may be difficult, let alone being fully present with others.

These are concerns facing many today, and part of a larger theme of anxiety I’m hearing about routinely in my practice. Across our nation, we are seeing re-openings of businesses, and with that comes new decisions of what is truly safe to do. I’ve provided resources in past blogs (found here, here, and here) of reliable sources to look for information as well as tools to get you through this time on my website found here.

Today though, let’s talk about the anxiety itself and how to cope with it. There is a graphic circulating online which shows varying stages of acceptance, take a look below:

This is a great illustration of the process of learning to open oneself up again. In some ways, this re-opening feels a bit like the immediate post-911 world to me. There was fear of going out and resuming “normal” life directly after the attacks because we just weren’t sure it was over. Our nation faced significant losses during that time, and we will never be who we were before that event; but, as time marched on we learned to process the experience and with that, we moved forward. We will do the same with Coronavirus/Covid-19. Take a look at the graphic, see where you think you may fall in the bands radiating off of the circle of Covid–do you see that you’ve made some progress? Or are you still practicing some of the behaviors in the darkest zone, the fear zone? Do you see that some of how you are feeling or acting are examples spread across more than one zone? That is a completely reasonable reaction. Likely where most of us are.

The above graphic also reminds me of the stages of grief, in more than one way. Many of us are familiar with this model of grieving developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and I find the stages apply to more than the loss of a loved one. She defined them as, 1. Denial and isolation, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. Some of those examples look familiar to the handling of this Covid era too, don’t they? The initial denial that this could be happening to the people of our world, our nation; the anger at others who may not be taking the news the same way we have chosen to respond; the bargaining–if only we’d done X, then…; and the isolation which can also bring on depression.

My point to all this? We’ve handled grief likely on a personal basis, but also as a nation before. We’ve been fearful of unknown forces. We have come through it, and maybe we don’t look the same as we did before the catastrophe–on a world or national scale or on an interpersonal, familial one such as after the loss of a loved one–but we humans are resilient and even after a time that feels like it could have been the end of the world, we can again find beauty in things. So, let’s talk about how to move forward.

Mindfulness. Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as: 1: the quality or state of being mindful. 2: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis also; a state of awareness. It’s a topic I’ve covered on a recent blog found here because I feel strongly mindfulness is one of our most useful tools in healing.

  • I came across some wonderful “attitudes for anxiety” in a blog post on Positive Psychology–to read the full post, click here. The 10 attitudes to practice for anxiety are towards the bottom but there are a number of other tools to practice she highlights–it’s worth the read. The one I find most essential is to: 1. Notice what is going on in your body. What are you feeling? Where? Is it the discomfort of reflux? The heart-pounding of panic? The headache or migraine of muscle tension? 2. Just stay with that feeling and feel it for a moment. Really let yourself become aware of what is going on internally. 3. Recognize what your thoughts are that either preceded the physical issue or are still present with the physical sensation. 4. Take a slow deep soothing breath into that part of your body that is in pain, taught, or uncomfortable. Hold it. Then blow it out as fast and hard as you can. Imagine that breath out as the difficult thoughts and feelings – blow them all out of your body. Do this several times and then attend to the area of the body with some self-care, i.e.: massage the muscles, notice the heart pounding may have slowed down with the breaths, or the reflux released just a little and if not take the medication you have for it.
  • Learn to meditate. There are countless videos and apps for meditation, some found on our website here, others a mere google search away. But here’s a good one I learned from a nun at an anxiety workshop many years ago. Spend 5 minutes looking into the flame of a candle. A well done video with an introduction to this meditation and a recorded candle’s flame for this process can be found here.
  • Deal with only one day at a time – Jon Kabat-Zinn has discussed this on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, the clip may be found here. He proposes checking in on yourself. How do you feel this morning? Are you still upset about a fight last night, or worried about an upcoming meeting? What do you want to achieve today? Understanding how you feel before you embark on your day can help you go through your day more mindfully. “Drop in on yourself and rest for a stretch of time,” Kabat-Zinn says. “And then as you go about your daily life, check in. Once an hour, once a minute. Once a day. You decide”.
  • Another technique a trusted colleague recently reminded me of when dealing with anxiety about the future and what is okay to do now or in a week about Covid-19 is to look at your watch. What time is it? What day? This is all you can make decisions about and deal with in this situation – use your watch as your reminder. See this blog for more information.

As I’ve written about before, practice good self-care. Not only the physical in good hand washing practices or wearing masks; but also, the mental self-care. Remember to limit your media consumption, be gentle with yourself, and get outside daily. If you’re dealing with OCD, it can be a tough time to manage your symptoms. If your current techniques aren’t working or you’re becoming worse through this, here’s an article written first person by someone who is handling OCD related to our current pandemic. Take a look at her tips, and if they’re new to you consider implementing the ideas. Even if they were routine previously, it may be time to up your game on using them. There are also some basic self-care principles written about here.

The same basic ideas apply to how to best care for your children during this time, but I cannot underscore this point enough, talk to them. Ask questions about how they’re feeling in an age appropriate way. If they’re older, see if they have questions on the state of things related to the illness and the ability to go out in the world or what your emergency preparedness plans would be. Ask them how they’re really doing at this time, and if they’re isolated from their peers–and consider supporting them in some things you previously may not have been as open to such as gaming on a device. In limited doses, it may be a great way for your kids to stay connected to their friends–it’s often a group activity yet can be played from individual houses. Watch for behavior changes in them–and if you’re seeing signs that are worrisome get them help. At this time of tele-therapy, they may be more open to the idea of talking to someone from the comfort of their own space rather than having to go into an office for counseling. If your children are younger, don’t overlook playtime as moments that feelings surface. Role playing with dolls, or even putting names to favorite play cars and trucks may bring out “feelings” the toys may have–but could really be the feelings your child may be dealing with. Remember, just like it can be hard for us as adults to put a name on a feeling or be forthright when we are having a hard time, children feel that too. Play with your kids when you can make time. No moment is too small–from the bathtub to a walk around the neighborhood, remember to take moments to check in on your littler people. Here’s a quick read from Seattle Children’s hospital on helping children and teens cope with anxiety.

I hope this provides some tools to each of you to calm the anxiety you are facing. Remember that this, too, is just a season. It will pass, and even if we have some longer lasting changes to adapt to, as was said by the late great Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

If you need some professional help, know I’m only a phone call away. Get ahold of Angie, my practice manager, and get yourself scheduled. I’m here for you, reach us by phone at 602.508.9190.

Wishing each of you an easy mind today, a restful night tonight, and a more peaceful tomorrow,

Dr. Beth

Decisions…Difficult but Important to Choose and Own

Our current times continue to present challenges in many ways for all of us.  From the smaller decisions of what to purchase at a grocery store and how to do so: online, via delivery, or in-person; whether we’ll follow the guidance to wear masks; to the no-brainers of breathing in and out each day, and to the largest decisions about when to retire and other big life changes.  We can say that some of these decisions are easy, whereas on others we will not reach agreement with everyone.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die.  And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility”.  There are crucial decisions being made by governors and legislators right now related to COVID-19, the economy and businesses, as well as protecting individuals.  At this time, we are also called upon to make our own choices, and decision-making is often challenging and stressful.

Part of this stress is brought on by hearing multiple conflicting ideas about how to open a country back up, what is too soon, what is too long, how much individual health and lives should be considered versus the economy, and whose guidance should be followed in these areas.  I believe, as Eleanor Roosevelt and others have said, that we are responsible to determine what is in our own or our loved ones’ best interest.  Some of the decisions our leaders make we need to assess and determine what to follow and when, such as the recent ones, and ones to come, about reopening.  So, I thought it was time to review a few basics on decision making.    

First, get yourself in a quiet place, without distractions, and relax yourself.  Hard to do in a Covid-19 world, but perhaps these steps will be taken over a period of a day or two, and that’s fine.  This might be doing some meditation, prayer, deep breathing or yoga, or other ideas you might have.  It’s important to have our brain available, and when we are relaxed, we have more capacity to use our full brain without it being impacted by a fight, flight, or freeze change in brain reaction. 

Second, once you’ve done the above, write down what the decision is that you’re trying to make.  Tie it down to one decision, after all we can’t make more than one decision at a time.  Writing it down helps you to focus.

Third, do the research you need to do.  For decisions about work, going out of the house, deciding whether to go to salons or restaurants, or even just whether to grocery shop versus using pick-up services, I’ve found some sources of information and am providing those here.  These links provide various views so you can consider what the pros and cons are.  But seek out your own sources as well.

  1.  CDC suggestions/plan on how to reopen

**I’m providing several Governors’ plans as it will allow you to see what they are considering and that may help you in making your own decisions.

After reviewing the facts and areas to consider from the above or other information you have, the fourth step is to write down your pros and cons on choosing to take various steps, i.e.:  go out to dinner vs. picking up dinner or having it delivered, going to the hair or nail salon, working in these environments and offices, and the others you’ll be faced with in the next week to months.  Then if it is clear to you what you will do, be clear with yourself how you reached the decision.  We can only make the best decision we can on any one day and with the information available to us.  You’ll want to reassure yourself later why you made a decision if later you question it.  If it is not clear, consider talking it through with your spouse, a significant other, close friend, person you respect, or trusted other.  And then follow the above once your decision is made. 

The fifth step, that will seem familiar to all who have studied science – from junior high forward, is to re-evaluate and make sure the decision still makes sense as you go.  Feel free to change your mind if that makes sense to you later.  For example, as many have suggested from a lot of entities and as we’ve seen in other countries, the numbers are going to go up as we reopen, so you may choose to change your decision if they are going up very rapidly, or begin going back down.

I ran across this in looking for a poem on choice and decision-making.  And in the end, I loved the simplicity of it:

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Source credit: quotesgram.com

Having peace during these times is challenging – but remember that with following all the guidelines we already know from so many sources, continue to:

  1.  Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  2.  Wear a mask in public.
  3.  Cover your nose with a Kleenex if sneezing anywhere.
  4.  Cover your mouth with a Kleenex if coughing.
  5.  Socially distance keeping 6’ between you and the other person/people.
  6.  Clean and disinfect touched surfaces regularly and throughout the day.
  7.  Do not touch your face or wash your hands after you do.

All of these get tiring to hear about at times – but they will be essential for a long time to come.   And they can provide you with peace within that you are doing all you can to protect yourself and others. 

Finally, remember to take time to relax, enjoy your family around you, reach out to friends in socially distant methods, pray, meditate, and use the tools we and others have provided. 

See our website for general resources.

We also have COVID-19 specific resources as well as blogs on ideas in managing these stressors.

You deserve to take care of yourself, and I encourage you to make your own decisions, and take care in all the ways you need to do so during these challenging days.  We’ll be back to the regular blog again on Sunday, but I wanted you to have these thoughts earlier as things are changing rapidly. 

Take care,

Dr. Beth