No doubt about it—2020 has been a year of increased anxiety, and that is not good for anyone.
While isolated fear episodes are both normal and necessary, daily anxiety over weeks, months, or even years is not normal and will eventually result in physical problems in your body. Cortisol and other stress responses can cause a lot of physical health problems.
“Great, something else to have anxiety about,” you’re probably thinking.
Perhaps, but I hope you will be inspired to take action by adopting one or two of the following techniques into your daily routine and the daily life of your children.
Put on Your Own Air Mask First
All of the techniques in this article will work with kids.
However, if you are also feeling anxious, I strongly encourage you to put one or two of these techniques to the test first, in order to build your confidence in their power. The benefit will be three-fold:
- You will feel less anxious. Not only will you feel better, but so will your kids. Children often pick up their parent’s emotions and model them back. Have you ever noticed more acting out from your kids when you’re struggling with anger or anxiety? That’s why. Children are emotional sponges for their parent’s emotions.
- Once you know how effective these tips are, you will be more enthusiastic about encouraging your children to use them.
- Children do as you do, not as you say to do. If they don’t see you doing these things, usually they will ignore your advice to use them.
The Power of the Present Moment
Most anxiety arises out of thinking about unknowns from the future or reliving past traumas/fearful events. The most powerful thing you can do is build a practice of stepping into the present moment.
While it is simple to say this, it is more difficult to implement and will require some consistent, mental discipline on your part.
There are many techniques for stepping into the present moment. As a certified yoga & qi gong instructor, I find one of the most powerful techniques is to focus on your body. There are many ways that you can do this. Try each of these activities for at least 3 minutes (set a timer!!!) and see which one you like best:
- Focus on your connection to the earth. Stand barefoot on grass and bring all of your attention to the bottom of your feet. Feel each blade under your feet. Notice whether the weight of your body is on the front of your feet or the back. Shift the weight of your body to either the front or back of your feet. Think about how the earth supports you as you walk on it.
- Body Gratitude. Lie down. Observe your breath for 3 or 4 breaths. Then bring your attention to the bottom of your feet, and appreciate every part of your body, slowly working yourself all the way to your head. Appreciate your feet, ankles, knees, hips, all the organs in your digestive area, lungs, heart, arms, hands, fingers, shoulders, neck, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and brain. Say thank you to each body part and consider how much that part contributes to your life. Feet allow you move around, dance, etc. Knees allow for ease of movement and bending, etc.
- Inhale and/or exhale to a particular count. See how long it takes you to inhale. Now add a couple of seconds to that, and inhale to that longer count. So if your usual inhale take 3 seconds, start by breathing in to a count of 5. You can also exhale to a count of 5 or just focus on the inhale.
- Bring your focus to a much shorter period of time. If you find yourself feeling anxious about an event or task that is coming up, restrict your focus to the next step. For example, if the anxiety is coming from overwhelm due to something like midterms or the perceived long-term burdens of caring for a person with a disability, step your focus back to just today. “I only have to focus on the next few hours. . . .. I only have to focus on the next step. I can take one step at a time. That’s actually all I can do. I can only take one step at a time, so I will just focus on this next step, and leave the other steps alone for awhile.”
- Dance. Put on your favorite song and dance all out like no one is watching. All out, full speed for a full song.
The Power of Gratitude
Shifting your focus to appreciate the things in your life that you are grateful for is immensely powerful. Even just the practice of finding as few as three things every day to be grateful for will bring an enormous relief to your life.
It could be anything. You are grateful for your home, the people in your life, even having the eyes and hands that allow you to write the gratitudes.
It’s even better if you can keep a gratitude journal. . . .This will give you proof that you have so many things in your life which aren’t causing you to be afraid. And the longer you do this, the more momentum you will have.
Challenge yourself to fill one page every day with a list of things in your life that you are grateful for. You will be amazed at the change this will cause in your life.
The Power of Food
I highly recommend following Trudy Scott, a nutritionist who wrote the Antianxiety Food Solution, writes a blog, and produces the Anxiety Summit. The next summit will happen online from Nov 2-8, 2020
The Summit gathers the country’s leading experts on effective nutritional (diet & supplement) approaches to lessoning anxiety. There is a lot of research to support the power of food’s affect on mood, and you would do well to look into what you can easily change in your diet to support a more positive mood.
Limit News and Social Media
Take a break from the daily news and severely limit your social media time.
The world will not end if you don’t watch the news every day. So much of news reporting is centered on creating the fear based headline and story. Just turn it off.
Every app has a feature to notify you when you’ve spent a certain amount of time on it. Turn these time notifications on. Commit to spending 30 min or less on social media a day.
The power of Nature & Exercise
Make a point to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day. Go to a park, walk on the beach, ride your bike, move your body. Try to go to a place outside that has a beautiful view or at least has more trees than people.
The research on the healing power of nature is clear. People who spent 40 min. walking in a cedar forest had measurably lower levels of cortisol in their bodies than those who had walked in a lab. Cortisol is the stress hormone triggered by the fight or flight response that accompanies anxiety. Cortisol is a hormone that wreaks havoc on the body’s systems. Being in nature causes the body to relax and stop producing as much.
The healing effects of nature is so powerful that even just listening to the sounds of nature will reduce stress. The app Rain Rain will pipe in a wide variety of sounds for free via your phone.
The Power of Meditation
Once of the best ways to stop anxiety over the long term, is also one of the most resisted: 15 min of meditation.
If you can make time to sit for 15 min when you first wake up, you will reap enormous benefits in every area of your life. Unfortunately, this is really hard to do if you are overwhelmed by fearful thoughts. You would be better off waiting until you could a group practice to get accustomed to meditating before trying to take it on yourself.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed by All the Choices
As you’re reading through this, choose one or two things to focus on for few weeks.
It takes 21 days to build a new habit, so set up a structure and commit to building one of these habits for 21 days. Then take on another habit for the next 21 days. Perhaps you could include your kids in the second round.
You will be amazed at the changes in your day to day life as these techniques will help your resilience grow. You will be able to look at things that used to send you running in fear with an attitude of, “I’ve got this.”
Like what you read? You can check out my blog for more tips on advocacy and wellness.