Hey you out there, the woman holding back who she really is, stop.
It’s ok to step into your light.
It’s ok to show up and be yourself.
It’s ok to finally figure out who your real people are.
It’s ok to want more, ask for more, need more.
It’s ok to be the person you really are.
It’s ok to ask for help.
It’s ok to break a little, feel lost, and struggle with the next steps.
It’s ok to make changes in your life.
It’s ok to be vulnerable.
It’s ok to acknowledge that life is sometimes really freaking hard.
It’s ok to be 100% you.
It’s ok to be proud of yourself.
It’s ok to be happy.
It’s ok to be ok.
Just the word itself causes many people’s chests to tighten, pulses to quicken, minds to start racing, and their breath to feel more shallow.
It’s not fun.
If you are one of the many people that experience anxiety on a daily basis, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of the US population struggles with a diagnosis of anxiety. That means that 1 out of every 5 people deals with some level of anxiety. At least you are in good company, right?
Add in a pandemic that requires parents across the country to suddenly home-school their children for the rest of the school year while simultaneously having to either work from home, continue to work their normal jobs as essential employees, or struggle with hours being cut, I’m guessing that the 20% number is more like 75% theses days.
How do we manage the anxiety during a global pandemic?
How can we somehow find ways to control the crushing anxiety when we are quarantined in our own homes and forced to live a version of life much different than the one we had built for ourselves?
How can we prevent the anxiety from becoming a very unwelcome house guest with whom we must spend our lock down?
Here are 9 quick strategies to help you regain a sense of control over your anxiety, despite living in the midst of a global pandemic:
1. Let Go of Perfection
Now is not the time to put pressure on yourself to learn a new language, start a new workout routine, begin that great diet program to “finally” lose the extra body weight, get your house in tip top shape, or become the perfect spouse, employee, or parent.
Now is about surviving and getting through this rough time.
So much of what we are collectively feeling right now is grief. Would you expect perfection, increased motivation, improved concentration, and a chipper mood if a loved one just died? I hope not — because you’d be grieving.
You are grieving now too — think about the things you have lost. Are you missing face to face time with friends, dinners out with your partner, lunches with your colleagues, commutes to your job, watching your children play sports, or attending a group fitness class? If so, you are grieving.
Is your To Do list not getting completed each day? Then the problem is with your list — not with you! You are expecting too much of your grieving self right now.
Reset your expectations right now.
There will be time to expect more of yourself but that time is not now.
2. Rethink Social Media
For many of us, social media has been a bit of a lifeline during quarantine. It has allowed us to connect with our friends, coordinate birthday drive-by parades, laugh at funny tik toks from people that probably shouldn’t be tik tocking (is that a word??), and vent about our feelings. It has kept many of us quite grounded at times.
But, social media has always been a potentially dark place. It is where keyboard warriors go to vent their own emotions and frustrations. It’s where name-calling is worse than any school yard could possibly be. It’s where misinformation spreads like wildfire. It’s also a place where people don’t often change other people’s points of views. Used incorrectly, it can be a place of wasted emotional energy.
If your social media friends, groups, pages, or followed sites are causing increased anxiety from you or are making your own blood boil, hide them, unfollow them, snooze them, or even delete them. There is no sense getting into a conversation about it, alerting them to it, or trying to tough it out. Just delete and move on for now.
Clear your social media so that it can be filled with people and stories that make you feel good — or at least don’t make you feel worse.
3. Make Room For Self Care
When in quarantine, so many of the things that filled our tanks and made us feel good are now off limits. Although it may feel like you don’t need self care because life has maybe slowed down for you, because of everything going on and the heaviness that surrounds every day, self care is actually more important now than ever.
What can you do for yourself? Look at your schedule and block out some time for just you. Go for a walk alone — even if your dogs and your children look at you with sad puppy dog eyes. Get in your car and go for a drive alone. Go sit in your car in a parking lot, roll your windows down, and read a book or listen to a podcast or play some music. Take a nap. Pour yourself a glass of that fancy wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion and watch your favorite movie. You may need to get creative but find a way to take care of yourself each day.
There is no right or wrong way to self -care — it’s just important that you carve out the time and do something for yourself.
4. Say No
After spending so much time in quarantine, many of us have gotten very good at connecting with friends and family virtually. But, what many people are beginning to experience is technology fatigue. There are only so many virtual cocktail parties, group video chats, and Zoom bingo’s we can have before we start to crave some time away from the computer and phone.
It’s ok to turn down some of those many invitations you are receiving from professional colleagues, friends, and family. It’s perfectly acceptable to take some time and NOT connect. In a weird way, many people are socializing MORE now than before the quarantine. Would you be going out this many nights a week or seeing friends in person as often as you are connecting virtually with them?
It’s ok to cut back a bit — even if it’s just for a few days.
5. Get Moving
Physical activity can really help break up long days in quarantine. If you live in an area of the country where even walking or running outside now requires a mask and parks are closed, your best options for getting moving may now require some added creativity and planning.
Maybe you could take an early morning walk around your neighborhood, apartment complex parking lot, or even do laps up and down your own driveway. Or, perhaps your best option to get moving may be inside your own home. With lots of gyms, fitness studios, and online programs finding a way to stay relevant and profitable while not able to operate their physical space, there are many free and reduced options to try online. Have you always wanted to try a Barre, Pound, Zumba, BodyPump, Kickboxing, or any other workout program? You probably can find a way to try them all within the comfort of your own home now. Imagine — no one can see you trip or stumble or struggle with any of the moves!
Choose one way to get moving for at least 10 minutes each day and note how you feel after you have done it.
What do you do when anxiety hits you full force and you can’t catch your breath? Being able to get control of your breathing again is key.
One of my favorite breathing techniques to recommend is one called Square Breathing. Think of this as breathing in a square. There are five steps to square breathing:
1. Inhale for a count of 4.
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
3. Exhale for a count of 4.
4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
5. Repeat steps 1–4.
The Square Breathing technique takes some practicing. You don’t want your counts to be so fast that you hyperventilate. You also don’t want them to be so slow that you almost pass out. It’s best to practice this when not feeling anxious so that you know how to do it when you need it.
Take a few minutes each day to practice being aware of your breathing. It’s amazing what a few good deep breaths can do for our minds and bodies.
7. Point Out the Positive
It is really easy to become overwhelmed by negative information during a global pandemic. But, I promise you, there are positive things out there too — you just may need to look a little harder to find them.
Try to find and read at least one positive, funny, or hopeful news story each day. Try to watch a tv show or movie or read part of a book each week that focuses on a funny, hopeful, or lighthearted story line.
In addition to seeking out the positive, you can choose to BE the positive. Before you share that negative post or meme on your social media page or with your housemates, stop and think about whether it’s worth it. Would it be better to share something funny or bright right now? How would it feel to make someone else smile or laugh right now?
It’s amazing to see what can happen once we start searching for and leaning into the positives and leaning away from the negatives.
8. Focus On Your Thoughts
There is a thing that many of us with anxiety do — it’s called catastrophizing. When we catastrophize, we think about the worst possible thing and worry about it happening to us or our loved ones. We wonder how we would respond and how we can be prepared for the bad thing so that we are never caught off guard.
Become aware of your thought patterns and when you catch yourself starting to fall down the rabbit hole of “what if,” pull yourself back to reality. Ask yourself what value this line of thinking is providing right now. Ask yourself how likely the things you are worried about happening actually are right now. If that’s not enough to stop your catastrophizing, start a “worry journal” and write down your worried thoughts there. Give yourself a limit on how long you can spend reading and writing in your worry journal and make sure you give yourself equal time to write about and think about the positive things in your life, the things you can still have hope about, and the things you look forward to doing in the future.
We don’t have to let our thoughts control us. We can climb into our own brains and begin to take control of our thoughts.
9. Consider Counseling
Even thought many counselors (myself included) have moved their practices to an online format during the pandemic, now is still a good time to begin counseling for the first time. Although meeting a therapist for the first time via video or phone chat may be awkward, it can be a great opportunity to vent, unload, and have someone completely there for YOU for 45 minutes each week. They can also help you explore specific strategies to help manage the anxiety you are feeling now.
How great would it feel to have someone there for you every week, holding supportive space for you, and helping you to develop new strategies for coping? All without having to leave your home!
Although this pandemic and resulting quarantine time may leave you feeling very alone within your own home, remember that you are not alone. There are many people out there who struggle with anxiety even when there isn’t a pandemic. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with your friends and family — it is very likely that some of them are feeling the very same way.
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of and it is not something that has to control you. With practice, you can learn how to turn down those anxious thoughts and have greater enjoyment in your life, even when you life is completely turned upside down from a pandemic.
Everywhere we look right now we hear and see the same few words over and over again.
For many of us, this constant news cycle can be overwhelming, tapping into our already somewhat heightened levels of anxiety. For those of us that are parents, we have an added layer of concern: how do we explain the current state of affairs to our children and provide them some sense of reassurance?
While there is no magic elixir, magic wand, or secret rule book, there are a few key strategies that just might help us to decrease our children’s current worries and restore a sense of hope.
1. Be Honest
As with most things, children know more than we think they do and they crave honest information. As much as I want to shelter my children from hearing about the potential bad things that could happen, now that they are in school and in sports, this is simply not a reliable option. They can potentially overhear information from an adult or directly from another child in a number of locations. When parents make the decision to provide their children with honest information, there is better control over what and how specific information is shared with their children.
2. Watch What You Say
On the flip side, be mindful about what you say around children, not just around your own children, but when you are out in public. You don’t want to be that person who exposes another child to information their parents had not yet shared.
3. Consider Development
Children’s emotional and cognitive capacities develop significantly throughout their childhood. Before sharing details with them, take their developmental stage into consideration. A 12 year old will want and need more specific and detailed information than a 7 year old may need. Avoid going into too much detail or overwhelming them with details. Let them guide you on how much information they need.
4. Be a Role Model
Let’s face it, children learn a lot from watching their parents: the good, the bad and the ugly. Show your children that feelings like anger and frustration are normal. If you are angry, name it. Be sure to not only show your child that it is normal to feel emotions but also demonstrate acceptable ways for them to express those emotions. Avoid holding it all in and expressing it only when the children are not around. Let them in on the realness of feelings. You will be providing them a solid model for how to handle and manage life’s biggest challenges to come.
5. Reassure. Reassure. Reassure.
Children need to feel safe and the adults in their lives are the ones who are tasked with that monumental responsibility. I am not advocating for you to tell your children that nothing bad will happen to them or near them ever as that would be a lie. You cannot predict the future. You can, however, point out that good stuff happens far more often than the bad stuff. Remind children of all the people and systems in place to keep them safe and all the healthy people around them. Reassure them that you would never knowingly put them in a dangerous situations. Highlight safety measures that are in place in they express fear over attending a certain event. Repeat as many times as necessary. When you think you’ve said it all enough, say it one more time.
6. Limit Media
Television news, social media accounts and newspapers now provide non-stop, around the clock coverage of the virus outbreak. Pictures, video, audio clips; it’s all out there and it can quickly become too much for children. Be mindful of what children may be exposed to and consider whether it is necessary. I recall hearing accounts from 9/11 that many children interpreted the frequent replay of the plane hitting the tower as multiple planes hitting multiple buildings day after day. Even if you think your children aren’t watching the news with you or don’t see the headlines on the newspaper, think about what they may overhear from the next room or what they may see when the newspaper is left casually on a kitchen table.
7. Create an Open Dialogue
Children need time to process things. It is not unusual for children to need days or even weeks to develop questions or be able to express their thoughts on difficult topics. Send your child the message that you can always find time to talk with them. Many parents have success by carving out time each night around bedtime for an opportunity for children to share their experiences, thoughts, feelings and ask questions. Some parents schedule weekly one-on-one parent/child dates at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant to connect. These conversations tend to be better received when they focus on one child at a time, rather than as a family dialogue with multiple children of various developmental stages.
8. Point Out the Positive
Despite what we see on a daily basis, there are lots and lots of great things that happen locally, nationally and internationally. Seek out the good stuff and share it often with your children. Local newspapers can often be a more positive source of news, particularly for children. Highlighting the positives can also go a long way to helping children feel safe. No amount of the good stuff is too much!
9. Monitor Behavioral Changes
Keep a watchful eye on your child’s behavior. Changes in sleeping and eating patterns may indicate that your child is having a hard time processing some events and information. Changes such as suddenly wetting the bed again or asking to sleep in your bed could be a normal response to stressful information. Be careful not to shame your child about changes like these. Rather, give them some time, continue to provide reassurance and keep a watchful eye. If you are concerned, reach out for support. Your child’s school, their pediatrician and local child therapists are all great resources.
Jenni, stop! You’re overthinking it!
My friend’s words snapped me out of my anxious thought pattern and brought me back to reality. Nothing about my situation required me to be overthinking anything. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a moment, and then opened them, taking in the full scene before me.
It was a sunny summer day without a cloud in the sky. I was spending my Sunday morning lounging in an over-sized inflatable tube, tethered to a group of over two dozen of my friends and their children, all in their own individual tubes, as we floated lazily down 5 miles of a river in New Hampshire. The air was filled with the sound of laughter as music from a speaker in a waterproof pouch provided the soundtrack. Other groups in kayaks and tubes drifted by us, everyone smiling and waving at each other.
What could there possibly be to overthink?
Bags were stowed safely in inflatable rafts of their own, complete with sunscreen, dry towels, cell phones, empty trash bags, and snacks. Even our coolers filled with ice-cold beverages had their own floats, some with very useful cup holders. We could take as much time as we wanted floating down the river back to our cars. We could stop whenever we wanted and rest on a beach at the river’s edge. Everything about the day was laid back and care free.
Except for me.
Just one day before our river tubing trip, my husband, our two sons, and I rode a gondola to the top of a New Hampshire mountain where we took in the breathtaking scenery and prepared to eat a picnic on the mountaintop. As I was taking a photo of the view, my 10 year old found a sign near a trail that indicated it was part of the 2200 mile long Appalachian Trail.
Let’s hike it!
My 10 year old proposed the idea with a huge smile on his face, a smile I don’t see quite as often now that he is approaching his teenage years.
Instantly I began overthinking it.
But we don’t really know where it goes…We were going to take the gondola back down….We have our lunch with us…I don’t know how hard the trail is…What if someone gets hurt…
My 10 year old son and my 13 year old sons looked at me and sighed.
Come on, Mom! It’ll be fun. We’ll just go in and when we want to be done, we’ll turn around and come back out.
This was a magical moment, my two sons were wanting the same thing and weren’t arguing about anything. Just then my husband came up behind us and when the boys told him their plan, he shrugged his shoulders and said,
That was it. No overthinking. No “what if…” Just, “cool.”
In that moment, I desperately wished I could be more like the three of them — carefree, able to be in the moment, not anxious. So, I pushed all my fears aside and we headed into the trail. The thoughts continued inside my head during our hike but I kept them to myself, determined to not let them ruin my day or anyone else’s day.
It turns out the hike was pretty strenuous. We were climbing up rocks, jumping down over structures, and had a few stumbles. But, we shared a few laughs, got to help each other with the climb and descent, and enjoyed the time on the trail. On our way back to the top of the mountain, we met a woman who was hiking with two companions, each over 70 years old. She shared that they had hiked nearly all of the segments of the Appalachian Trail in their lifetime and this particular part of the trail and one other in the area are all they had left to complete.
There’s no way they were overthinking it. They were living their best life, climbing a flipping mountain at over 70 years old. Yet there I was, in the middle of a mountain, and then in the middle of lazy tubing trip down a river, overthinking all the small stuff.
If I had listened to my anxious thoughts on that mountain, I wouldn’t have the amazing memories my family now has from that trail. I wouldn’t have heard the story about that couple in their 70’s. We wouldn’t have been so interested in the Appalachian Trail that we would read about it later as a family. If I had listened to my anxious thoughts on that river, I wouldn’t have laughed so hard that my stomach was sore the next day. I wouldn’t have found the humor in so many memories from that day, even when our group of tubes got caught on some mini rapids and we needed to work to free ourselves. My overthinking almost stopped me from fully living in so many moments on that trip.
So, here I sit, overthinking my overthinking.
Is it possible to leave my overthinking tendencies at home on my next vacation? Could I add “hide the overthinking” to my pre-vacation To Do List? Could I at least tuck it away in my suitcase and just leave it there during the trip like all the unused “just in case” shirts and outfits?
I’m not quite sure of the answer but what I do know is that even if my anxious thoughts tag along on my next vacation, I don’t have to listen to them. I don’t have to believe them. I don’t have to give them power. I don’t want to let them keep me from fully enjoying my vacation, my family, my friends, or my life.
Instead, at least for now, I can simply keep telling myself,
Jenni, stop! You’re overthinking it!
Have you ever felt like you can’t catch your breath, are wound-up or on edge?
Have you ever felt like your mind is racing and you can’t keep up?
Do your thoughts about what you have to do consume you?
Have you ever laid in bed awake and unable to fall asleep because you have so much on your mind?
Have you ever realized that your shoulders and neck are so tense that they become painful?
Have you ever felt like there is an elephant sitting on your chest making it difficult to breathe?
Have you ever wanted to lock yourself in a room and hide from all the things that you have to do?
Welcome to anxiety.
There is some good news, though. You are not alone. Over 40 million adults in the US report some level of anxiety. That’s 18% of the population. For over 4% of those individuals, their anxiety is severe (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016).
Think about those numbers and then think about your life. Chances are that nearly 20% of the adults in your life have dealt or are currently dealing with anxiety issues. That’s 1 out of every 5 people you know. Yet, for so many people, anxiety is a shameful secret they struggle to hide.
When your anxiety rears its ugly head, you might find yourself thinking things like “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I just stop worrying?” “Why can’t I just be grateful for all the good things in my life?” You might find that you are starting to turn to some unhealthy coping tools such as cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and food. You might find that your anxiety is causing you to miss work, cancel social activities or even starting to impact your physical health.
It’s time to tell anxiety who is the boss in your life. It’s time to tell anxiety to hit the road. It’s time to take control of your thoughts and your mind. You deserve it. And I have a magical solution.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Unfortunately, there is no magical solution. It’s entirely possible that your good friend anxiety will stay will you forever. (Wow. This article is turning out to be super motivational and inspiring so far.) The good news is that you CAN learn some ways to manage your anxiety. Anxiety is not something you can beat forever. It is a part of you and is probably part of what makes you, YOU. At some point in your life, your anxiety may have even helped you! However, it does not need to control you or define you. So, let’s look at some ways to manage this beast called anxiety and prevent it from taking over our lives:
1. Let Go of Perfection
Many people with anxiety have a belief that they need to be perfect. The perfect mother. The perfect friend. The perfect neighbor. The perfect employee. To you, a messy house is an indication of failure; a child with hair that is a bit overdue for a haircut means that you are a neglectful parent; leaving your trash barrels out until 6pm means that you are the worst neighbor ever; being 10 pounds overweight means that you are disgusting; asking your friend for help means that you are too needy.
None of that is true.
Your thoughts can become your own worst enemy. Stop trying to prove your worth. Stop trying to live up to people in your life that you think are perfect. Stop trying to be the best. Honestly, stop.
What would happen if you tried to just do the best you can do right now? Maybe your best today is to feed your kids mac and cheese for dinner. Does that mean you are the worst mother? No. Maybe your best today is to throw your dirty clothes in the hamper rather than on the floor. Does that mean you are a lazy slob? No. Maybe tomorrow you can do more. Maybe not. Don’t beat yourself up. Cut “I should” out of your vocabulary. Accept yourself for who you are right now and focus on the good, not the bad
2. Rethink Social Media
A quick word on all those perfect people on social media: most of them are fake. Their pictures were posed and reposed, edited and re-edited. Their posts have been rewritten and reworded. Their videos have been cut and redone. What you are seeing is the best version of them, not the real version. Resist the temptation to compare yourself. If there are people on your social media accounts who always seem to have it together and you find that their posts somehow leave you feeling worse about yourself, try hiding their posts for a bit. It’s ok to take a break. They don’t even need to know.
3. Make Room for Self Care
In my experience, many of the people who struggle with anxiety are really wonderful caregivers – except when it comes to caring for themselves. They place everyone else’s needs above their own and by the end of the day, there is nothing left for them. That kind of behavior needs to stop if you are ever going to manage your anxiety.
What are some things that make you feel good? Is it 15 minutes drinking coffee by yourself in the morning - no phone, no tv, no other people? Is it a long bath at the end of the day? Is it one night out a week with a friend? Is it some time with a good book at night for 20 minutes? Is it scrapbooking or photography or writing? What is it that fills you up a little bit? Once you figure out what it is, schedule some time, preferably daily, for that self care activity. Even 5 minutes each day would be wonderful! Hold that time sacred. Block it out and schedule things around it. Don’t allow yourself to feel badly about it. Self care is not selfish.
A large part of learning to manage your anxiety is learning how to calm and quiet your thoughts. Many people have found activities such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness training to be effective at increasing their ability to quiet their mind. It’s not easy. You will likely find your first 5 sessions of yoga, meditation or mindfulness work will leave you feeling even more anxious because you will suddenly be extremely aware of just how fast your thoughts are moving. Stick with it. It will become easier and, with practice, you will be able to sit in silence without your mind racing. These are wonderful tools to have in your toolkit.
5. Get Moving
Physical exercise can be extremely beneficial for those with anxiety. Exercise can be something as simple as a 10 minute walk each morning. Go at it with the goal of increasing physical activity and decreasing your anxiety. Resist the urge to set sizeable goals for yourself with regards to weight loss. You want to avoid opportunities for causing more anxiety in your life. Set yourself up for success.
So, what do you do when anxiety hits you full force and you can’t catch your breath? Being able to get control of your breathing again is key. There are two main techniques that I like to recommend to patients:
7. Watch Your Diet
Take a few days and track everything you eat and drink. Also track any times of day where you may be feeling more anxious. Look for patterns. Caffeine can sometimes heighten your symptoms of anxiety. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for you to slowly decrease your caffeine consumption and/or limit your intake of sugar. Small and steady changes can make a big change over time.
8. Find a Counselor
Perhaps I am biased because I am a counselor, but I tend to believe that everyone can benefit from a counselor or psychotherapist. I recently talked to someone who was hesitant to contact a counselor because they didn’t exactly know how to explain their concerns to the therapist. Don’t worry. A good therapist will help you articulate and identify your concerns and needs. They also can help you learn new coping and calming strategies and skills, can assist you with areas of stress in your life and can help you increase your overall quality of life.
Not sure where to find a good therapist? Talk to your friends. They may be able to recommend a great one. You can also check out your health insurance company’s list of approved behavioral health providers. Psychology Today has a great searchable database of clinicians as well.
What if you see a therapist and don’t feel like you connect with them? Find another one! This is about you – not the therapist’s feelings.
9. Be Open to Medication
I am not one to advocate skipping all of the previous steps and going straight to medication. However, panic attacks and chronic severe anxiety can feel terrifying. There are many medication options available today to help manage anxiety. These medications can be taken daily or taken as needed. Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t want to be snowed.” Or “I don’t want a tranquilizer.” Fear not. Medications are much more refined today than they were decades ago. If you feel you may want to explore medications for your anxiety, speak to your primary care physician or schedule a consult with a psychiatrist. (In general, I find that a psychiatrist tends to be a better option over a primary care physician for medications for depression and anxiety – it’s their specialty.)
10. Be Kind to Yourself
This mantra seems to find its way into many of my articles. I cannot stress this concept enough to you. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Accept that you are not perfect. Accept that you are flawed. Accept that you are human. Surround yourself with people who allow you to be kind to yourself. Better yet, surround yourself with people who encourage you to be kind to yourself.
With anxiety, some days are harder than others. In fact, some days just feel damn near impossible. Know that those days will pass and know that there are resources, supports and tools available to help you manage your anxiety. You don't have to fight this battle alone!
National Institute of Mental Health. Any anxiety disorder among adults. (n.d.) Retrieved December 29, 2016 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml
Mental Health & Wellness
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.