Focus on the Basics
One of my favorite mentors in the counseling world shared with me that when life is overwhelming, it’s important to focus on the basics. It’s ok to actually make this your sole focus sometimes. Focus on getting enough sleep and rest, eating an adequate and healthy enough amount of food, and getting a little exercise. This recommendation may or may not include focusing on how you will meal plan, on what time your bedtime needs to be, and how you will create a relaxing space to sleep. Focusing on basics could also include how to get in, at minimum, a 10-minute walk, even if just inside your house while watching a show.
Getting in the Moment/Day
Grounding in the present can be very helpful. Statement’s like these can help, “I have enough to eat today, myself/my family is safe and well today, I can take care of my needs today, etc.” Finding gratitude in what we have today can bring tremendous comfort to many. We know that all we really have is the present time in this day. Take a minute to tell yourself, (for the past) “that already happened and it’s done, now I can focus on my needs for healing” or (for the future) “we aren’t there yet, I can think of that as I get closer”. My mom used to have a great saying, “is it happening today, because if it’s not happening today, I don’t have to worry about it yet”.
Conscious Denial/Finding Joy in Memories and/or Joy in Future Hope
This might be one of the only times I recommend channeling human denial for helping with present day anxieties. When things are very overwhelming, either remembering happy times that came before OR imagining what life will be like in a positive way on the other side of the current conditions can be helpful. In studying the enneagram and working with people, we are oriented to time differently. Some of us find comfort in the past, some find comfort in the future, and for some people the present is where it’s at. Think about what works for you. If pulling out an old photo album to remember a joyful time helps you then do that, get lost in the good memories. If envisioning the good that can come out of present-day circumstances or a return to normal is helpful, then move into that daydreaming or envisioning. The trick is to keep this tool hopeful and comforting.
Remembering What is in our Control and What is Not
It’s good to remind ourselves that things like a global pandemic are out of our control. Other people’s reactions and responses are out of our control. What is in our control includes our responses and reactions. Choosing the tools that work to help calm us and support us is something that is in our control. It helps to sometimes state out loud to another person, or to ourselves, “that is out of my control”. I sometimes make a list of what is in my control and what is outside of my control and start working on the things in my control.
Set Limits on Anxiety Stimulating Sources (news, situations, etc.)
I am a data driven person. I look at the data sometimes without much interpretation. For example, the news might be giving out scary information regarding the flu, yet the data shows statistically cases are decreasing. There may be times the news is not saying much about the flu, but I want to make sure it’s not rampant, and so that if it is, I can protect myself as much as possible by avoiding crowded areas and taking other precautions.
It’s ok to say “this source will be my only source for today” or “I will only watch 2 hours of news today (which might be way too much for some people). Listen to yourself and set your own appropriate limits for your well-being. It’s ok to set concrete limits. Please be kind to yourself if you don’t follow them exactly. Like the saying in the recovery world goes, progress not perfection!
Also, going outside and watching the clouds or the breeze blow through the trees might help. Changing the stimulus to soothing things in nature can definitely help.
Let Yourself Panic (for a little bit, with a ton of self-loving & self-compassionate thoughts)
One thing known is that when a panic attack reaches a certain point, we can’t stop it. At that point we have to ride it out. During a panic attack that is underway our bodies are responding to the threat. What we control in that moment is what we say to ourselves. I’m going to recommend some statements here.
“I am having a panic attack and I’ll be ok”.
“I’m going to be really kind to myself”.
“The reason I am afraid is _____, and I’m going to be compassionate towards that fear”
“Panic attacks only last on average 30 minutes, I’ll do _____ (deep breathing, listening to calming music, distracting myself with____, etc.) until it passes”.
“I know how to reach for the help I need, I’ll contact ________ to help me through this”.
We can turn the volume up on panic, or we can turn the volume down. Below are examples of how to do this.
“My heart is racing, I’m definitely having a medical crisis” would turn the volume up from a 5 to at least a 7.
“My heart is racing, I’m likely having a panic attack, this will last about 30 minutes, if my intuition tells me I need medical help, I’ll go ahead and call for medical help, meanwhile I’ll do some deep breathing and see if I pass through this in the next 30 minutes”.
Name Your Fears
Write down your fears and/or talk about your fears with a safe person. I love the example on the show This is Us when Beth and Randall tell each other their worst fears, they state the worst-case scenarios out loud with each other. Naming fears and talking about them helps them to lose their power and/or allows us to let in some compassion and support for them.
There are a lot of news sources and people that will emphasize the worst-case scenarios out there. Make a concerted effort to look for people and new sources offering solutions and reassurance. Sometimes it will be a mix. Sometimes the facts are scary, but keep listening for the hopeful messages, too, and especially the ways to receive and give help.
Finding what works for you
Take some time to google search terms like “stopping a panic attack” or “managing anxiety”. Look for meditations, yoga, guided relaxation techniques, helpful articles, apps on the phone, YouTube videos, and anything that helps you to manage your anxiety. Try out the techniques that appeal to you, or list 2 to try this week. I recommend the first one you focus on is tending to the basics.
I hope some, or all, of these tools can help you manage normal natural anxiety and overwhelm during this period of a global pandemic, or any overwhelmingly stressful time. Feel free to share other techniques that work well for you, too.