I’m anxious even in the best of times. I guess the upside to this is having had decades to figure out how to manage anxiety. Here are four practices I find helpful:
1. Log off social media, turn off the news
Like laughter, fear is contagious. You can see this in birds where one of them starts acting nervous and a moment later the whole flock takes flight. For several weeks I went down the coronavirus news hole, and my emotions went right down with me. Then one day I shut my laptop and noticed the shining sun and swaying trees outside. In that moment, I decided that I was the one who would decide my experience of this time. While I still check the news and Twitter, I do my best to limit exposure.
2. Tune in, breathe, and feel
Soothe anxiety as you would a crying child: hold it, listen to it, be with it. To ritualize this emotional processing, each evening I take time to tune into my body, breathe, and feel through any emotions present. The book Deep Listening is a fantastic guide to this practice.
Troubled by circling thoughts? Try using the 4-7-8 breathing: inhale through the nose for 4, hold the breath for 7, breathe out the mouth for 8. The counting acts as a chew toy for the mind, while the breathing technique helps the nervous system switch out of fight-or-flight. To shift from shallow chest breathing to big belly breaths, tuck your chin and place one hand on the heart and one hand on the belly.
Another breathing practice I’ve found particularly useful is qi gong. It might feel silly to do at first, but I’ve never found anything that pacifies turbulent emotions so effectively. An easy way to start is this YouTube tutorial.
3. Be kind
If you’re living with others, go out of your way to do something nice for them. If you’re not, send friends and family thoughtful messages and reflect on the good times you’ve shared. Performing acts of kindness will help you as much as others.
4. Get going on your secret dream
Look! Everyone’s distracted and all your plans are canceled. Now’s the time to take up watercolor, learn to make ravioli, finish that David Foster Wallace novel, or whatever else you’ve been relegating to the forbidden land of someday. That someday is today—unless, of course, you are on 24/7 lockdown with kids. Then grab a beer and Netflix, you deserve it.
As the Stoics would say, the situation is as it is, but you still have a hand to play—even if it’s just choosing to consciously breathe through this time.
Is there another technique that you’ve found helpful? Please comment and share. We’re all in this together. 💙