The walls are closing in.
Chest is tightening.
Anyone experiencing a little stress right now??
Nerves, overwhelm or anxiety are developed for a number of reasons, but the main one is stress.
Today I write this as I sit quarantined in my home along with most of the world. If this isn’t a time of increased stress and anxiety I don’t know what is.
For the benefit of the health of my community, I stay in my home with my children not knowing what tomorrow brings. Not having control over my movement and daily routine and constantly bombarded with reports of disease and uncertainty.
How do we cope through these times?
Our bodies respond to anxiety or the feelings of fear or being threatened the same way they respond to actual physical danger.
Even though logically we know that we are safe in our pj’s on our couch, our bodies are reacting to the uncertainty and feelings of threat.
Most have heard of the natural response of fight, flight or freeze. Our bodies react to anxiety in the same way.
When in fight mode our muscles tense, our digestion is paused, our attention is narrowly focused.
Do you experience any muscle tension? How’s your digestion system and appetite? And are you like me, having a hard time pulling yourself away from the news?
All anxiety responses.
Flight mode is when we run from the threat.
You do as much as you can to put space between you and the danger and you do it fast.
This can be seen in the hoarding tendencies that people have. They create as much buffer between themselves and the threat as possible. This is their way of coping with the anxiety that they are experiencing.
If you freeze when threatened, you become paralyzed.
So much information is coming at you that you don’t know what to do first. This could be you: unsure of what to do first so you find yourself stuck with your mind racing trying to process the threat.
Below is a list of 10 things that help calm anxiety in times of uncertainty.
Putting action to these tips does not cure anxiety. They are not a magic wand that prevents stress and anxiety from building up or overwhelm from creeping in. But, by practicing these skills and strategies you will be able to cope and decrease the intensity of anxiety you’ll feel during times of high stress.
10 Ways to Overcome Anxiety
I am a Christian. I believe in Christ’s salvation and God’s unwavering love for us. I believe that we are His children and He wants us to experience the good things that life has to offer. My faith brings me hope that I am not alone, that I am uniquely designed and created for a purpose. I trust that even though the world is facing difficult times, I know that I am accepted and loved by the creator of the World.
Do you have faith? The hope I receive from my faith in God brings peace and reassurance. Reconnecting to your faith in God through music, scriptures and story brings peace and hope that overcomes anxiety.
Because our bodies are reacting to danger they release stress hormones and we no longer process information from the logic center of our brain. Taking a few seconds to have full deep breaths counteracts the anxiety response.
sync your breathing to the growing shape to the picture below. Try to fill your whole belly with air and avoid raising your shoulders. By deep breathing we lower our heart rate and blood pressure, we counteract those fight, flight and freeze responses and we reengage the logic centers of our mind.
3. 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise
Anxiety is based on fear and our bodies are responding as if we were in immediate danger. The 5-4-3-2-1 exercise tells our minds that we are not in immediate danger so the anxiety response decreases.
This is a really useful tool with kids who are struggling with anxiety and panic because it calms the child who is escalating without them even realizing it and you’re not saying “calm down”… because we all know how well that works…
Try to take a few breaths first then go through these 5 steps:
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow or the ground under your feet.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need, take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell like soap in your bathroom or nature outside.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee or the sandwich from lunch?
Your brain is tricked by focusing on the things around you. You are preoccupied with identifying the senses rather than the threat or anxious moment. In just a few moments what was once panic, is now an awareness that you are in a safe environment and your mind and body begin to calm.
Sleep can evade us on the best of days, but add in a world health crisis and economic uncertainty and I can bet that most of us have had some sleepless nights. When we have not had good sleep anxiety levels increase. Studies have shown that those who have sleep disturbances are 17 times more likely to struggle with anxiety. Developing healthy sleep habits that promote sleep not only can lower anxiety but also improve our physical health. It increases our attention and our memory and lower our agitation.
At Hope Made Strong we offer courses that build-up ministry leaders. Because we ALL facing so much uncertainty anxiety and insomnia are peeking. For this quarantine time I’m offering my Sleep is Not a Dream for Free. Please use this resource to take back your sleep and live your full potential fully rested.
Anxiety often comes with racing thoughts and becoming hyper-focused on the threat. This would be helpful if you were running from a tiger. You would need to know exactly where the tiger is at all times. But this is not necessary or helpful when you are safe and experiencing anxiety. Pulling your attention away from the threat and onto something else that is calming or enjoyable is what distraction is all about. Watching a comedy show, listening to music, getting into a hobby, baking, cooking or reading a book. These are all great distraction activities that take your mind off the perceived threat and onto something that you enjoy.
6. Decrease stimulus
There is a lot of information coming at you and your mind is on overload processing it all. When you are experiencing anxiety the part of your brain that perceives threat becomes… well… excited.
It’s working on overdrive and we can mistakenly perceive something as a threat when it really isn’t.
Do you find that you get hurt, offended more easily when you are anxious? Me too! That is our body trying to keep us safe. We start perceiving threats everywhere we go. But most of the time these threats are not real.
By decreasing stimulus we give our mind time to calm down so it is triggered less easily. Go for a walk in nature, sit in a quiet room, have a long bath, turn off the news, music or tv. Lower the stimulus so your mind can have time to calm.
7. Stay Connected
We need relationships. So in times of quarantine or crisis it can be difficult to find ways to connect, especially for those who live alone. I encourage you to use technology to connect with others. There are tons of free apps that allow you to engage and even strengthen relationships. Video, text watch parties, I even hear of people talking in driveways and front porches from their cars. Feeling alone and isolated only compounds fear and anxiety. Be creative, but know that staying connected to other supportive friends and family is a human need and builds resilience.
8. Physical movement
The natural response of fighting or fleeing both have physical components. Releasing energy through movement lowers the tension, releases positive endorphins and is a great distraction. So go for a walk, bike ride or paddle. Use the dusty treadmill, get in the garden, paint that room. Engaging in physical activity is very beneficial to your mind, body and emotions. Plus you get the satisfaction of checking off an item on the to-do list.
9. Changing your body’s chemistry
This is not as wacky as it sounds. There are no oils, pills or creams. What this is really about is changing your body’s response to extreme emotion fast using TIP skills. These skills mirror some of the other tips, but these are more intense and can benefit in times of panic attacks when fast results are needed.
“T” stands for tipping your Temperature. Dropping your temperature fast lowers your heart rate. This can be done by splashing cold water on your face or placing an ice pack on the face. Please note that very cold water drops your heart rate rapidly so if you have a heart or medical condition consult your doctor first before trying this strategy.
“I” stands for intense exercise. To calm down your body when it is revved up engage in intense exercise for a short period of time. Expand your body’s stored up physical energy by running, jumping, skipping or lifting weights. Intense exercise will increase the heart rate and increase your risk of injury. If you have preexisting injuries or a health condition please consult a doctor first.
“P” stands for paced breathing with paired muscle relaxation. By using slow breathing and pairing that with muscle relaxation you are releasing tension mentally and physically at the same time. While breathing, tense your body muscles and hold. Notice the tension and slowly release the tension as you breathe out. Do this several times and notice the tension releasing in your body.
10. Breaking the day into chunks.
Facing a whole day with nothing scheduled can be overwhelming for some and freeing for others. If you find this overwhelming break your day into smaller chunks. Maintaining a schedule is positive for your mental health and we naturally thrive in routine. So create 1-3 hour chunks of activities for your day. Start by setting a time to wake-up and time go to bed. Fill in meal and snack times. Once you add in a few of these recommendations you will likely have much of your day filled. It can be overwhelming to look at days, weeks or possibly months of open unstructured time. But by breaking it into chunks it can become more manageable.
Anxiety is a human experience. Just because you are struggling with anxiety it doesn’t mean that you are broken, weak or lack faith. God created our bodies to detect threats and our body responds to threats the same way if they are feelings and worries or if they are physical.
Don’t allow anxiety to take over your mind, body and home. Use these strategies to overcome anxiety and take back your mind and life.