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

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