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Forging Through The Lockdown - Part 4: Tips for reducing stress and anxiety

Posted by Deb Muoio

Apr 1, 2020 4:37:30 PM


In uncertain times, we yearn for a sense of control. We can take practical precautions to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 virus, but we can also control our emotional reactions. No matter what is going on in the outside world, you have the power to control what goes on in your inner world. Here are some tips to keep anxiety and stress under control:

Practice mindfulness. All you have is the present moment. This is where your power lies. You cannot change the past, nor can you predict the future, so keep your mind in the present moment. Mindfulness is a deceptively powerful technique to help you regain a sense of calm. Here's how to put it into practice:

  • Tune into your senses. What can you smell? What can you hear? What tiny details  or colors do you see around you? How does the chair you're sitting on feel beneath you?
  • Play the alphabet game. For each letter, come up with a positive, happy, or pleasant word. Abundance, Beauty, Cat Videos…I can guarantee that you'll be so busy trying to find a word for the letters Q, X, and Z that you'll forget all about your worries.

Look for the opportunity within each problem. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • "What is this problem trying to teach me?"
  • "Do I need to be doing more of something, or less of something?"
  • "What will I gain by going through this hardship? How will this make me a better, stronger, or wiser person?"

Break patterns of rumination. Negative thoughts are like weeds: Each thought will breed another, and another, and another, unless you get them under control. As soon as you catch yourself ruminating, break the cycle by engaging in a task that absorbs your attention - a puzzle, a craft, baking, cleaning…whatever works for you.

Allow yourself to feel through your emotions. Telling yourself to calm down when you're feeling anything but calm is futile. Don't suppress or ignore your feelings. Allow yourself to feel them fully - let the fear and worry wash over you. All emotions dissipate with time. The more you try to repress negative feelings, the stronger they become. Remember, what you resist persists.

Use this 5-minute breathing technique. When you are under stress, your breaths are more likely to be short and shallow. Use this breathing method instead: 

  • Breathe in using your diaphragm. You should see your chest lifting.
  • Breathe in and out through your nose. Use a five-second count to time your breathing - it might even help to say to yourself "Breathe in 1...2...3...4...5, (hold your breath) breathe out 1...2...3...4...5."
  • As you're breathing in and out, repeat calming words, like "tranquility".
  • Continue to do this until you feel your pulse and your breathing pattern slow down to a more natural and calmer pace.
  • The 4-7-8 breathing method: Close your eyes and exhale completely. Then breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth. Make a whoosh sound, like you're blowing out candles on your birthday cake, or blowing a balloon. Repeat 3 to 4 times.

Use this 5-minute relaxation technique. Progressively and mindfully relax your muscles, one part at a time. For example, start with your toes, and move up through your body, focusing longer on areas that are particularly tense. As you're moving through each section, repeatedly tell your muscles to relax. Combine this with deep breathing to enhance your relaxation. You can look up YouTube videos with guided relaxation if you are new to this, or simply play relaxing music in the background.

Take advantage of the benefits of being physically active. Not only does regular exercise promote good health and high self-esteem, research also shows that it reduces stress, releases tension and "feel-good" hormones, and boosts your immune system. If you are not already doing so, engage in physical exercise every day for at least half an hour. Even if you don't have exercise equipment at home, you can download workouts online, run up and down your stairs, or just put some music on and dance while doing chores, playing with your kids, or cooking.

Harness the power of humor. Giving yourself permission to laugh can diffuse both the physical and emotional effects of stress. Even just the act of smiling, whether there's something to smile about or not, can have a positive impact on your mood. Now is not the time to watch doomsday movies. Yes, you should tune into the news to stay informed, but resist the urge to keep checking the stats. Instead, watch comedies, funny or cute videos, or search for jokes and share them. Humor is one of the most powerful coping strategies.

Remember, hardiness or mental toughness isn't something you are born with. It is developed and strengthened through hardship. We will grow stronger and wiser from this experience.

Take the free Pandemic Resilience Test.

Topics: Personal Development

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