None of us have been through a pandemic before. This new living situation is taking its toll on everyone’s motional balance and peace of mind. Hopefully we have all realized that there will be an end to this and that there is a way we can regain our composure in this tough situation.
Let’s go over some intentional self-care practices for our stress, so we can once again find some serenity amongst the chaos. Here are a few everyday stress reduction practices that can help you lose the anxiety and enjoy your life more.
Stress Reduction Practice #1: Positive Self- TalkScientists say that we have between 30,000 – 50,000 thoughts each day. Our thoughts can be anxious, calming, productive, neutral, negative, self-encouraging or self defeating. If a good majority of our 50,000 thoughts a day are anxious and negative – imagine the damage we are doing to our minds - our thinking – everyday! Clinicians, scientists and many studies support that “self-talk” - or that ‘dialog of thoughts that goes on in our heads’ – has a huge impact on our thinking about ourselves, and our functioning in general.
So how do we defeat the anxiety and the negative automatic thoughts? First of all, make the intentional decision to catch ourselves using negative self-talk and replace it with positive talk. Self criticism, negative cycles of anger towards the handling of this pandemic situation, resentment and self-loathing is not helping anyone, least of all you. We all must realize that speaking badly or negatively to ourselves is self-defeating and it hurts our everyday functioning. Additionally experts point out that constant negative sentiment or angry feelings towards others - also hurts us mentally and emotionally …..not them.
To replace years of negative self-talk, anxiety and criticism you need to catch yourself in the act first. When you hear your inner dialog anxiously ruminating and saying something negative like, “I am so sick of this! I am stuck inside and not getting anything accomplished! We are going to be stuck like this forever!” We need to stop and catch ourselves – say, “STOP IT” (either in your head or out loud – you choose!) – and rephrase the negative comment in an encouraging way to yourself. For instance, to replace the above statement about the pandemic and it’s resulting anxiety and frustration, you could say to yourself, “Well, I am doing the best I can to cope with this. This is not an easy time – and all the experts say that most people are anxious and having a hard time. It’s a really weird situation and I am going to continue to do some small things every day to take my mind off of this anxiety. I will not continue to “beat myself up” for what I did or didn’t do today. I am learning to cope with this temporary season of sheltering in place.”
The long-practiced habit of negative self-talk will not disappear overnight, but it is possible to train yourself to eliminate some of your negative thinking. It will pay enormous dividends to your personal happiness, positive outlook and success in life. That nagging, negative critical inner voice will lose power and get smaller and smaller until it is banned from speaking into your life. That voice lies. It is not the truth and is not your friend – don’t let it run your thought life!
Practice # 2: Find your spiritual connectionA therapist friend of mine told me of her ‘three-legged stool’ approach to a fulfilling life: one leg of the stool is physical, taking care of your body. The second leg of the stool is mental, thinking clearly and keeping our thoughts in check as discussed in the first practice. The third leg of the stool is spiritual. She believes, as do I, that all of us have a spiritual core. Many may try to deny this, but you can feel it if you allow yourself to open up. The practice of connecting spiritually with your higher power can be a big first step to a more peaceful life. During this time of Covid 19 , we have the unusual opportunity to reflect on our place in the world as it relates to our God and the spiritual forces in our universe. Take some time to develop the spiritual practices of thankfulness, prayer, meditation and the reading of spiritual books to inspire you and to reflect that we are not in this alone.
Practice # 3: Reach out and TouchSomebody There was an old Diana Ross song that went, “Reach and out touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can.” The lyrics implied the truth that by helping others and connecting with others, we make the world a better place. When we reach out to others – we feel better. (PS: so do they!) This is win-win solution that helps everyone. So how might something like this look? Maybe it’s just a simple text to a friend who lives alone. Or a phone call to a family member who is struggling with anxiety (they say actual phone calls are up 40%!). Maybe it’s making a double batch of your famous meatloaf and dropping off a meal for that neighbor who is unable to go shopping. You’ll feel better and so will they – a fairly foolproof pick me up. Reach out for support for yourself too – and at the same time you’ll feel the positive influence you have on that other person as well. It’s ok to need people – we all feel better in community with others - and we’re going to need to connect in some other ways than what’s been our usual way of living.
Practice # 4: Reframe the Worry (Be Happy?)If you are one of the many individuals who are prone to rumination and worry, you know how overwhelming and distressing anxiety and worry can be (and how it never really solves anything!). So what can you do about worry? Well, for starters, you can fight it. Fighting worry can look like fighting negative self-talk as we discussed in the first practice. This practice is called “re-framing a worry”. For example: if you are worried about getting the virus, your worries could sound something like this, “Oh my gosh, I took my mask off at the store when the guy next to me coughed! Oh my gosh – I am terrified I am going to get Covid 19! Oh no...I’m really freaked out!.” To reframe this negative downward spiral of scary thoughts you could replace them with something like, “I am nervous about this virus. That guy coughed at the store near me. Ok, well, nothing I can do about it now - but I did have my mask on. I did take the precautions they told me about. I’ve also seen and heard that many are coming through this virus without any problem. Tom Hanks and his wife are fine. There’s lots of people who have very few symptoms - even if they get the virus! Ok so I am doing everything I can to not get it - and if I did get it - there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be that terribly sick. I can do this - put this anxiety out of my head and think more positively.” The illusion that we are ‘in control’ of this thing - or anything else for that matter - is an illusion. Are we truly in control of whether we get the virus? No. We are “in control” of ourselves, our behaviors, our thoughts (most times!).. Yes – that’s it. So we do what we can, take precautions and fight the downward spiral of anxious thoughts.
Practice #5: AcceptanceOk, so this pandemic season of all of our lives is out of our control. Let’s face it, the whole world is in this thing and there’s not much we can do about it. So what are our options? We can rail against the authorities and the problems that are going on throughout this situation. We can complain and soothe ourselves with negative coping practices like drinking too much, eating too much, etc. Or we can practice acceptance. We all must go through periods of time when we accept a situation that we are not happy about. Trying to affect change in this pandemic or it’s administrative handling, will result in frustration, resentment and more anxiety and negative feelings. We can learn to let go and accept the situation - for a season - and then when it’s safe, we can move on with our lives. Embrace the ‘it is what it is’ motto – and you will start to feel better. I like this quote, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”– because we all must ride the wave of this crazy pandemic that has come into our lives. “Let it go” sings the popular Disney princess …..and she is so right! We can do his.
Keeping a positive and healthy outlook on this season of our lives starts with our thinking – and if you practice these ‘thinking’ skills you will begin to feel some of the stress abate. Naturally, there are degrees of stress and anxiety that require intervention and support from professionals – if your thinking and anxiety is causing you daily dysfunction, please see a professional psychologist, social worker or therapist. They are trained to help point you towards the practices that can help – and to fully understand your particular situation and history.
We are happy to help. Please feel free to call. God bless and be safe during this TEMPORARY situation.
Michelle Krepps, LCSW, MSW, MBA
Fraser-Vaselakos and Associates
12627 W. 143rd Street
Homer Glen, Illinois
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