A Simple Way To Manage Stress And Anxiety At A Difficult Time

It’s no surprise if you are feeling even more stressed than normal.

In the past few days, we have witnessed an everchanging scenario as we begin collectively to understand more about the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s response and our part in that response to “flatten the curve” and reduce the impact on our health care system. 

As I write this, we have all been asked to practice social isolating, a new trending hashtag, but something we would never have even imagined or considered, two weeks ago.

Like you, I’ve watched the unfolding news in disbelief.

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Today, I want to remind you these events are not permanent, they will last weeks or perhaps months but we will come out the other side.

This time of closed borders, financial worries and hoarding of toilet paper will become a memory

And this is one of the things it’s so easy for us to forget.

This will pass.

Yes, we are faced with the unknown

Yes, family, friends and neighbours may become sick.

But time will move on and this crisis will pass. We will make it through.

We as humanity have made it through wars, the great depression, and other epidemics.

And we survived.

Now, each of us as individuals, get to choose how we can manage during these tough times too.

This is an opportunity for you to grow, contribute, take care of your self and your family and friends. And it’s your time to step up as a leader, as a source of light and love for others.

Yes, I find myself worrying.

Because that’s what my brain does. It is wired to constantly be on the lookout for danger. 

This is my brain’s automatic default mode.  Scan for danger and find things to be afraid of.

But, I get to choose whether I allow my automatic fear-finding brain to keep me in fight or flight mode or if I will choose another way.

I can choose.

This is possibly one of the most powerful thoughts you can have. You can choose your thoughts.

I can choose to manage my thoughts so that I feel better.

It’s not easy but it is simple, and it gets easier and more automatic with repetition.

I do it by writing down my thoughts and becoming aware of what’s a fact vs what are my fear-based thoughts about the facts.

Every thought I have creates an emotion. Thoughts of lack and danger create feelings of stress, fear and anxiety.

Many of the thoughts I have are random, what I call automatic thoughts.

These are the thoughts that my brain has practised for many years which are on constant replay in my mind. 

My brain repeats these thoughts because it wants to take care of me, it has the best of intentions, it wants to help me survive by finding things that might be a danger and alert me to take action.

An example that happened this morning:

I see a news story about empty grocery store shelves and panic buying.  My fear-based, survival brain triggers me to want to go to the grocery store and stock up…..

The fact is – there is a news story of empty shelves in a grocery store.

My thoughts are: (Yes, these are my actual thoughts.  Does any of this sound familiar?)

We’ve run out

We might starve to death

Something terrible will happen to us

This is horrible

I’ve never seen anything like this before

OMG, I better do something … RIGHT NOW!

I feel afraid and stressed when I think these thoughts

But I remind myself I can choose how I think.  It all starts with getting clarity.

Here’s how I approach it:

1. First, I unpack all my thoughts and write them out in my journal.

Even getting them out of my mind and onto paper gives me a fresh perspective.

2. Second, I recognize, these are my thoughts, my opinions, based on one news story.

3. Third, I look at the thoughts that I collected on paper and realize I’m overreacting

4. Fourth, I remind myself of some thoughts that help me to feel better. These are some of the thoughts I had

My husband went to Costco yesterday and my fridge is stocked with food and the cupboards are full.

We have enough food to last us for weeks.

That news story is a snapshot of one store at one time. For all I know there may be stock in the back of the store and there could a delivery truck scheduled for tomorrow to replenish those supplies.

This is one event that took place in one store thousands of miles away.

There are at least one hundred of grocery stores within a 30-minute drive of my home.

5. Then I breathe and ask myself.

How do I feel now?  

Am I calmer, more level-headed, more centred

I’ve noticed that I do feel calmer even as I read this again.

When I’ve created this new, more helpful emotion, I can make better decisions with less panic. I can decide whether to go grocery shopping or not.

Here’s what I know for sure, when I am calmer even in difficult times not only do I feel better but others around me also feel better and I’m more available to help them.

Of course, I don’t always have my journal handy, and you may be thinking, this will take too long, but for me, it’s worthwhile to spend a few minutes working through my thoughts and emotions from time to time so I spend less time in reactive panic mode and more time feeling better.

I’m here to help and support you. Doing this mindset work will help you weather these tough times and help you to be more resilient in the face of the challenges to come.

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