With the world being overwhelmed by the Coronavirus, I know a lot of people who are really struggling with stress and anxiety. So this post has nothing to do with audio or music. I just wanted to offer some simple and practical ideas to help combat stress and anxiety in these uncertain times. I am a total self-help / self-discovery book junkie and a lot of these ideas come from these kinds of books. Some might be applicable to you, others less so… that’s ok. Take what you can and ditch the rest. Keep in mind I am not a psychologist. If your anxiety, stress or depression is too great, please seek professional help.
- Let’s start with an easy one: keep an eye on your caffeine intake. For me, if I have more than 2 cups of coffee in a day, I start getting anxious. I find tea to be a much more gentle caffeine lift but see what works for you. Too much caffeine will mess with your brain and your ability to focus.
- Start your day right – do NOT reach for your phone as soon as you wake up and especially do not reach for your phone if you are planning on looking at the news! The way you start your day really sets the tone for the rest of the day so be very intentional about focusing on gratitude and other positive thoughts as you arise. Youtube has lots of awesome motivational videos so that’s one time you can reach for your phone (there are also so many corny ones so beware).
- Brain research tells us that a single negative thought will flood your brain with crappy stress hormones (there is a cool way to test that out – if you know me, ask me about it sometime). Unfortunately, a single positive thought does not have an equal but opposite reaction in the brain. You need more of them to counter the single negative thought. So if you catch yourself thinking a negative thought, immediately think 3-5 positive thoughts – things you’re grateful for, a Bible verse that inspires you, how much you love Nickelback, whatever. The more you do this, the better! You know how our brains create neural pathways? And the more we do a certain thing, the more entrenched that pathway becomes? That applies to negativity too – so the more you think negative thoughts, the easier it will be to think negative thoughts and you’ll be heading into darker waters of anxiety and even depression. So fight it!
- One really simple way to grow positivity is to check in at night right before you go to sleep – either write down (or discuss with your partner) 3-5 things you are grateful for. It’s hard at first but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Joy and gratitude are directly proportional to each other – the more you practice gratitude (actively do it), the more joy you will have in your life. Also write down 3 things that went right that day. How often do we dwell on the things that went wrong? All the time! We play them back over and over… but if we track the things that went right, not only are we setting ourselves up to grow in positivity, but we are also strengthening and encouraging new practices in our lives (“oh that new thing I tried with the kids worked really well, I’ll remember it for next time.”)
- Be careful of your news intake… yes, we need to know what’s going on out there but if we begin to obsess over the news (which is pretty much all bad news right now), that will get our brains swimming in stress hormones. Also be really mindful with whom you share news… some people are a lot more sensitive to all the bad news and it may trigger anxiety for them. And be really careful about spreading fake news. It is everywhere right now! A Whatapp group chat where someone mentions “a doctor friend in Germany” does not count as a credible source.
- Normalize your anxiety – in other words, you’re not weird for being anxious at a time like this. NO-ONE could have predicted a worldwide pandemic with a reality show president calling the shots. This is new for EVERYONE. Remember that! And never, EVER feel any shame about your anxiety or stress. It is normal. Don’t repress it – acknowledge it without judgment. It is ok, if not expected, that we will all grieve this. It is a weighty time for humankind. Just a few days ago I found myself angry at everything. I eventually realized that I was experiencing grief – grief at all the loss, heartache and tragedy we are witnessing. It is ok to grieve.
- Lastly, try out some mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is essentially a workout for your brain. There are so many benefits and some even believe that in 50 years, doctors will recommend it just like they recommend exercise and getting enough sleep. It’s not easy at first (no new skill ever is) but push through and keep going. There are too many benefits to list and all you need is 10-20 minutes a day. There are so many great resources on the web and a lot of great apps to guide you in it. One variant is to think of something really positive to you (it could be a single word like “love” or “peace” or a Bible verse, anything!) and to close your eyes and focus on that positive thought. Let it fill you as much as possible while you breathe normally. Just keep focusing on it. Brain research has proven that when you do this, the emotional centers of the brain calm down. And if you do this for 6 weeks or more, your brain LITERALLY changes size… your amygdala (which drives and controls your fight/flight response) actually shrinks and the parts of your brain that handle memory and language grow which means you’ll stress less, have a better memory and be happier!
I hope you might find some of these useful. Share them and find someone to do them with – someone you can encourage and who can do the same for you.
We’re all in this together.