Managing Stress and Anxiety

There is a reason that as humans we experience emotions. Feelings like joy, happiness, sadness and even anxiety communicate important information to us and others.

I know what you’re probably thinking – this anxiety I am feeling is not helpful right now. I hear you. I am also struggling with the uncertainty and change of the present moment. I am consoling myself with the idea that this feeling of anxiety is trying to be helpful. Is it telling me that there is threat and that I need to plan for the future. For me and I think many of us, the anxiety is trying to keep us safe.

Without anxiety, we might be ignoring social isolation guidelines and the safety of our families and the broader community. Maybe for you, it’s encouraged you to stock up on food or to wash your hands more.

The problem with anxiety (and with all emotions) is that we can get stuck in a feeling when what we really want to do is visit our experiences, learn from them and then move on. Right now, there are so many things that can make us feel anxious. Every day it seems like the recommendations about social distancing are changing and no one knows how long this will last. There is also an onslaught of media designed to scare us and grab our attention. My local grocery store is stocked with toilet paper and food, but you wouldn't know it for how many pictures of bare shelves I have seen on the news.

Below are some steps that you might find helpful to move through your anxiety.

1. Focus on the present moment. What situation are you in right now? Is there an immediate threat that you need to deal with or are you planning for the future? Can you ground yourself into the present moment with a few deep breaths? Can you focus on how your body is feeling in this moment?

2. Acknowledge how you are feeling without judgement. There is no need to judge yourself or your inner experience. Judgment and shame prolong negative feelings. If you’re already feeling sad and scared and then you berate yourself for those feelings, for example, “I shouldn’t feel this way, everyone else is handling this better” the negative feelings just last longer. Instead, you can try to accept how you are feeling right now and remind yourself that you have valid reason to feel this way. There is nothing wrong with you.

3. Practice self-compassion. Respond with self-compassion. What would you say to a friend, or a child who was feeling anxious right now? If the words don’t come easily, you can try, “You must be scared, I’m so sorry this is hard”. You might put your hand on your heart or touch your shoulder with a gentle touch.

4. Choose one action that is in line with your values and do it. One of my favourite book titles is “feel the fear and do it anyway”. In the case of a pandemic, I would say a more accurate title might be, feel the fear, and then make a plan that is physically distant from others and honours the uniquely stressful time we are living in and do it anyway. It’s not quite as catchy.

Right now, as much as we can, we need to slow down and relax our expectations of ourselves and others. We also need to continue to live in ways that nurture our spiritual, physical and emotional selves and communities.

Maybe you are missing your friends and family. Make a plan to catch up on one of the apps that are available for group hangouts. Maybe exercise is important to you – do 15 minutes of a workout or yoga class from your living room. We are not aiming for perfection in these changing times, just some action that is in line with your values.

5. Check in with how you feel after. After you have gone through these steps check in with how you are feeling? Chances are that your emotional experience has shifted, even slightly and this is important information to remember. Your feelings, just like this situation, are not going to last forever.

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