In trying times, feeling anxious can be overwhelming. These are my favorite 10 easy and actionable tips to feel more relaxed and at peace.
Any life stressor can leave us feeling anxious. Especially during trying times, it is easy to feel stressed and out of control.
This post is a bit different from my regular content. However, with my background as a mind-body practitioner and educator, I encourage you to check out my favorite 10 tips I use to feel more balanced and at peace!
Often this is called a practice. Just because I have this background doesn’t mean that I got this down all the time. I, too, have to make conscious choices every single day!
DISCLAIMER: If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, you should contact a qualified health care practitioner! Also, it is good to understand the difference between feeling anxious or depressed versus suffering from anxiety or depression: the former is more temporary, maybe as a reaction to something that is currently going on. The latter is an ongoing condition regardless of what is going on around you and should be discussed with and treated under professional care. Learn more here: https://www.self.com/story/anxious-feelings-vs-anxiety-disorders
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Focus on the positive
When faced with negative thoughts or news, I do often feel anxious and overwhelmed. Research has shown that the human mind is attracted to bad news which is also called the “negativity bias“. Therefore, I have to work a bit harder to see the good and the beauty around us. What to do? When I get up, I like to remind myself that I am well, I am healthy, and I am safe. And so is my family. That’s big! When I am outside and see a beautiful flower, I like to linger with that image. Also, I like to create something beautiful. We can outsmart the negativity bias of our brain by choosing to stay with something positive or reframing.
For example: instead of saying that I cannot leave the house, I like to reframe it by saying to myself that it gives me the time to do that project that I have been putting off.
There are so many ideas here! You might think “art” and that would be great! It could be music, painting, drawing, singing, or clay modeling. Personally, I love to sew something useful or beautiful. And work in the garden growing fruits and vegetables. If you’ve been following me you know that I love being in the kitchen to make some food.
Most of these activities have a meditative quality to them. That simply means they pull me into the moment and out of my head.
Those activities also help me feel like I can do something. That I have some power. Feeling powerless can leave one feeling more anxious. Doing and creating is the opposite.
Get outside/move your body
Notice how I linked those two? But you can practice them separately!
Being outside in nature is just like medicine. Seeing the green of plants, listening to the sound of birds, and feeling the soft forest floor under my feet are all soothing. Soothing to my senses. Also, this helps to move from thinking to feeling. Moving from the head into the body.
Furthermore, a morning walk and being out in the sun help get the essential vitamin D.
Movement, too, is great! That simple walk could be all that is needed. If I want to ramp it up, I like to hike uphill which makes me breathe harder and sweat.
Sometimes it’s just digging in the garden, carrying around that heavy watering can, or weeding. If you’re stuck inside, you could watch an exercise video or try the 7-Minute-Workout. Even some simple stretches are great.
Not only is movement good for the mind but also for the body and its immune system. When we’re stressed, we’re in fight-or-flight mode. That means our immune system is suppressed. A good jog, working in the garden, or a sweaty Yoga session can make us feel more relaxed. You probably know what kinds of movement you enjoy and are good for you. So just go do it!
Eat healthy and supplement
Nothing new here … The irony is that in stressful times, we tend to reach for quick gratification such as french fries, boxed macaroni, and cheese, greasy food, or sugary desserts – me included!
But eating healthy vegetables and clean proteins is not only good for my body but also my mind. They are connected!
The better we eat, the fewer cravings we have for processed and fast foods.
I also like to supplement:
I like taking a Vit. D3/K2 supplement just to make sure I am covered. As for Vit. C, I like to focus on foods naturally high in that vitamin (think lemons, oranges, rose hips, parsley, kale etc). It can also be helpful to supplement here.
Remember to breathe
I am sure you have heard this one before. But stay with me! I notice in myself that my breathing can go short and shallow when I am anxious about something and I am not paying attention to my breath. All it takes is a few rounds of conscious breathing. It calms the nervous system and brings me back into my body.
Sometimes, I like inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds, making sure it feels comfortable and I am not straining. Or I might practice abdominal breathing or belly breathing: I place my hands on my abdomen and inhale so that my belly swells. Then I allow the exhale to happen slowly and naturally. Both these breathing exercises are best done for about one minute – or longer! It makes a huge difference – try it out!
Get good sleep
Again, nothing new here. We all know how important good sleep is. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get enough, restful sleep. All of my tips here will help you feel more relaxed but you can also check out my blog post on how to get good sleep.
We have turned our bedroom into a cozy sanctuary to keep unnecessary stressors out: news, work, and clutter. We also like our bedroom to be dark and cool 68˚F or less). Sometimes, we put some lavender essential oil into a diffuser to help us drift off to some good sleep. You can even take lavender essential oil internally to relieve anxiety and help you get some shut-eye (here’s the study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007527/).
Connect with family and friends
Friends and family are so important! We humans are social beings and thrive on connection. Women in particular thrive on social connections! That long chat over coffee with that good friend can feel like therapy! Since this article was written during shelter-in-place order, it’s best to stick with phone or video chats. I try to call or skype my mom and friends regularly.
Know what news sources are objective and trustworthy
When we feel stressed due to current events or news, it is really important to find good news sources. All media need audiences and clicks. But some media seem to be more sensationalistic stoking our fears. I like to choose news outlets that are more objective and simply informative. I try to stay away from the more sensationalistic ones.
But even with the most matter-of-fact news outlets, I need to monitor my time spent on the news. Then it’s time to get moving, breathing, or calling that friend.
When there are some outside stressors, it’s easy to feel powerless and overwhelmed. But I think that in every situation there is at least something or a few things you can do. It really helps when I educate myself! Learning how I can keep myself and my family healthy and safe. Finding out what you can do for my community. How I can be of service.
You can counter panic with knowledge. Knowledge can turn into action. And then you’re back to my earlier point “Create Something” (see above).
Have a spiritual practice
Having a spiritual practice is very important for mental health. Since we’re all different that can mean being a member of a spiritual or religious community, having a meditation practice, or simply enjoying nature. It is about a connection to something bigger than us. Find more ideas here: https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/practices/features/view/27713/spiritual-practice-toolkit
Professionals I like:
I really enjoy reading Rick Hanson, PhD‘s books and listening to his videos and podcasts. There might be a slight bias here because I know Dr. Hanson personally and have worked with him but I still think he is right on. Not only do I find his explanations and advice user-friendly and easy to understand but also engaging and very encouraging. You will not regret checking him out!
Most of the visitors to my blog and my Youtube channel are women. If that is you, I highly recommend checking out Sara Gottfried, MD (she has some relevant information for men, too). Much of her research has been around female hormones and weight loss but she also covers brain-body function and other health issues. I love her no-nonsense, scientifically sound approach while being a regular human being. Her instagram is a great place to start!