How to manage anxiety during times of uncertainty
Let's face it, you might think you like surprises but your brain really doesn't. As humans our primary need is safety, and this means predictability.
The more uncertain we are about our external environment the more our brain can come up with worst case scenario thinking. When we are uncertain and worried about the future this predisposes to feelings of being out of control and helpless. The perfect recipe for anxiety to occur.
"Anxiety is an emotional response to a perceived threat that’s not actually there in front of you." - Mazen Kheirbek, PhD.
Uncertainty is one of the most stressful situations to the brain because it is continuously scanning for threats in our environment and trying to figure out how to survive.
However, the only constant in the universe is change, change is something we can always rely on. Uncertainty will always be there.
As humans we cannot predict the future or control everything in our lives. It's impossible, yet we attempt to do so anyway Trying to fight uncertainty will only create more internal chaos, so we must learn how to dance with it while at the same time creating a safe internal internal environment for ourselves.
When we are constantly creating stressful scenarios in our minds this triggers the body to shift into the sympathetic state, aka fight or flight. This not only can trigger anxiety but also inhibit various body processes in the body including digestion, reproduction, and immunity.
On the other hand when we learn how to activate the parasympathetic state, aka rest and repair, we can reduce stress hormones and promote the healing state of the body.
Remember, our minds are powerful and what we tend to focus on, we create more of and our attention is very much linked to the emotions that we feel. If we choose to focus on them and the stories created around the emotions, they can become amplified and much more powerful.
Our minds can be so convincing and do not differentiate the imagined from reality. We can make up completely made up scenarios in our minds, for better or for worse. Our reality is individualistic and skewed by our own beliefs and past experiences.
"We don't see life as it really is, we see life as we think it is." - Psychology Today
When we start to change our perspective and thought patterns, we can also shift the way we are feeling. Powerful right?
The thoughts we choose to focus on can make a profound impact on our mental health but also the ways we choose to live.
Today we will be sharing some easy tips and hacks for you to shift into this regenerative state at any moment and reduce anxiety during times when uncertainty may be more heavily pronounced.
Yes you read that right. Forward motion, aka moving your body forward in space, can actually greatly influence the stress response. When we feel anxious we can feel stuck in a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness like there is no escape.
This is why walking is such a great therapeutic tool to use when stressed or anxious as it helps to circulate energy and change our state.
Physical movement, especially rhythmic or meditative movement, like walking, Qigong, dancing, gardening, and yoga are phenomenal tools to help you step into the present moment, connect with your body and get out of your head by regulating the nervous system.
“Get out of your head and get into your body. Think less and feel more.” - Osho
Boundaries are essential if we want to take care of ourselves and protect our mental health. With the never-ending access to information and opinions being thrown at us from every direction it can feel overwhelming and alarming.
Negative news can activate our stress response and elevate cortisol levels therefore it's important to be mindful of our consumption and set the necessary boundaries.
This also pertains to our relationships, work hours, social media, conversations, and personal space.
If you find yourself constantly being surrounded by pessimism, drama, or gossip that affect your emotionally, it might be time to review your circle and make some changes.
The first step in setting boundaries is always awareness. We must assess where our boundaries are being crossed and what our needs are in order to instill any necessary changes.
Though boundary setting can feel quite foreign and uncomfortable if this is new to you, with practice it becomes easier and it is well worth it.
Connect with others
Humans are wired for connection. And though technological advancements have enabled us to become more connected than ever before, at the same time we have become less connected than ever before.
As our online presence has increased substantially, as a population we are more disconnected than ever as most of us spend more time in front of screens than interacting with others. Increased social media usage may be associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression (1)(2)(3)(4).
Virtual connection, though useful, still does not match in person connection. This lack of human to human interaction has had a significant impact on mental health globally, and we are all feeling the repercussions from lockdowns and restrictions on some level.
Technology can be a wonderful tool to stay in contact with your loved ones especially if they are far away and not able to see you in person. However, we absolutely need to prioritize real human connection wherever we can.
Science now shows that social isolation is a significant risk factor for chronic disease and mortality (5).
When we feel connected to others our bodies release feel good hormones and our stress levels lower but it can also benefit our immune system while improving longevity, resiliency and well-being (6)(7)(8).
And though this can be more challenging to do depending on your location, little things like saying hi to a neighbour, smiling at the person you cross paths with, chatting to your barista, volunteering in your community, or spending time with your partner can make a world of difference and help you feel less alone.
Immerse into nature
They call it nature therapy for a reason. Nature has called to many during the pandemic due to restrictions but also because as humans we know we can find peace and tranquility here.
Mother nature is profoundly healing to the body and time spent in the outdoors can be very effective at reducing both physical and psychological stress and improving wellbeing (9).
And it doesn't need to take much, a quick immersion into nature can relieve anxiety and reduce stress levels. The effects can be felt within minutes (10)!
Grounding, sometimes described as earthing, is another profound step you can take to reduce your stress levels. Grounding techniques help you to reconnect with the earth to become more centered and at ease while detaching from negative emotions. Grounding has also been shown to be associated with improved health outcomes and well-being while decreased connection to the earth is associated with a multitude of health issues (11).
You can practice grounding by simply walking barefoot on the earth, sitting on the ground, practicing deep belly breathing, immersing yourself in a body of water, running water over your hands, gardening, and lying on the ground.
Nowadays you can also bring grounding into your own home with equipment such as grounding mats, socks, and bands.
Lack of sleep is a significant risk factor for all sorts of health issues, including anxiety. Now more than ever our sleep must be a priority because of its effects on mental health but also immunity and chronic disease (12).
While lack of sleep can increase anxiety, anxiety can also keep us up at night preventing us from achieving a deep restful sleep, it's a tricky cycle. But we can break it!
The good news is that our lifestyle choices can greatly impact this cycle and help us to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep throughout the night
When we are not properly taking care of our bodies imbalances can occur, including anxiety.
On the other hand, when our bodies receive the right amount of rest they are able to go about essential reparation and regeneration processes to help us feel more energized, alert, happy, and healthy. Read more for our sleep tips and how to optimize your own sleep hygiene.
Anxiety is created in our minds, and is really centered around being too much in the future and not enough in the present moment.
When we take the time to pause within our day and simply be, we are practicing presence, without thinking about what is coming next.
The average person thinks 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts every single day and this can make it difficult to be present, which is only made more challenging with the rise of technology and distractions coming from every possible angle.
A simple exercise that can help you to cultivate presence is to begin to notice your surroundings. Look up from your phone or computer and simply notice what is in front of you. Describing what you notice out loud is also an excellent way to practice being in the moment and getting out of your head.
This is also a useful exercise to practice with your emotions. By communicating or simply becoming aware of what you are feeling right now this can help to dissolve the feeling and make it feel less significant.
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