March 31, 2020

A 5-Step Game Plan to Reduce Anxiety in Uncertain Times.

Read: Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


I have been on firefighting mode for a few days now, more or less repeating the same words of comfort, ideas, and strategies to people who were struggling with anxiety and worry.

No doubt this is a time of mixed emotions, uncertainty, and dramatic change in daily habits and routines—a perfect recipe for anxiety. Friends, family, and clients share feelings of a little excitement but also fear, worry, and a general ambivalence toward what should and can be done.

There are different reasons why we might be feeling anxious, some of which are legitimate and healthy. After all, without a degree of anxiety, how can we be diligent, careful, and disciplined in taking care of ourselves and others?

Other reasons, however, revolve around our perceived loss of control. Thus the overconsumption and oversharing of news, and the panic buying.

This brings us to the important distinction of what we can control, what we can influence, and what we have no control over. Once we determine that something is out of our control and influence, there is no need for that issue to take up mind space. We are better off focusing on what we have control or influence over.

Here are five steps to identifying and alleviating our anxiety in this time of global uncertainty:

Step 1: Identify issues that you have control and influence over.

Forget the things you cannot control or influence. Make a simple list of the things that you can.

Step 2: Create a basic plan for issues within your control and influence, and remember that you are responsible for the pursuit not the outcome.

Once you have honed in on what you have control and influence over, make a practical plan of how you will exercise your control and influence. For example, “I will self-isolate,” “I will work from home,” “I will create awareness around me,” or “I will use online classes for my workout.” Now that you have a plan and a means by which you can implement it, there is little more you can do about it mentally.

Step 3: Identify and label emotions.

Let’s move on to softer and more complex territory—your feelings.

People tend to say, “I am anxious.” But anxiety is an umbrella under which we find a variety of uncomfortable feelings such as anger, frustration, boredom, restlessness, worry, and fear are hiding.

The first course of action when we talk about feelings is to identify and label them. We need to be able to take a close look at our anxiety and find out what else is there; to be able to say, “I am experiencing tiredness at the moment,” “I am experiencing fear,” or “I am experiencing boredom.”

We have been programmed to avoid those uncomfortable feelings at all costs. But if you take a good look, it’s not all that bad. Feelings are just feelings. The wider the range of emotions we can experience and contain, the more mature and capable we become.

Step 4: Sit with your emotions.

Sit with it? What?

You heard it right. Take a seat, acknowledge the feeling you are experiencing, and allow it to present itself in full.

Then, feel it in your body. Where do you feel it?

Oftentimes, people describe discomfort or constriction in their stomach or chest. Wherever you feel the discomfort, focus on it. Inhale, and direct the breath to the point of discomfort, very gently, and with no tension whatsoever.

As you breathe into your “pain,” use your imagination to see the constriction. Next, ease it by creating space around it—as if airing it out. The more vivid you can imagine this spacing, the more relief will seep in. Rather than resisting uncomfortable feelings, we are inviting them in, containing them, and by containing them we assert their transient nature and our constancy. We are constant like a mountain; feelings are transient like clouds.

There is no need to resist, invalidate, or suppress emotion. Be compassionate with yourself and make space for your experience.

Step 5: Take care of your body.

Now that we have gone through mentally and emotionally helping ourselves, we are left with taking care of our bodies and our senses.

I will not get into details as surely I am not an expert on nutrition or sports. However, I will ask you to wake up and open your windows every morning. Get sun if it’s shining where you are, listen to your favorite music, make your favorite coffee and savor it till the very last sip. Write, draw, work out, and meditate over the aroma, texture, and taste of that piece of chocolate.

It is often difficult to come face-to-face with our own self. We have become so accustomed to plans and structure, to productivity and predictability, to doing and distraction, that when all of this melts away and we find ourselves just being—just existing. It’s overwhelming, or at least it can be, if we let it.

But it’s more helpful to use this opportunity to befriend ourselves, to get to know the “me” that was kept in check when all our deadlines had to be met. The journey of introspection and self-reflection is the most exhilarating and rewarding journey one can take in the comfort of their own living room.

Stay safe, stay open, stay warm, and stay well.



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