Updated: May 13
Learn to use mindfulness to tame anxiety.
What if I told you that stress isn’t a bad thing?
How is that possible? Isn’t stress the thing to avoid at all costs?
The experience of stress helps us adapt to our environments, respond and react appropriately, and can help us grow and make increasingly better decisions for ourselves. We NEED stress!
But when stress becomes chronic or associated with everyday activities that it can start to take a negative turn, it becomes a problem. When stress and anxiety feel out of control, they can easily start steering us into a corner or seeping into many aspects of our lives- physical health, sleep patterns, relationships, cognition, creative expression and much more.
So how do we separate ‘good’ stress from ‘bad’ stress?
It all starts with mindfulness and ‘making friends’ with our stress— or more precisely, rather than pushing the experience of stress down or covering it up, we can get to know exactly how it interacts with our own body. By building a deeper well of personal awareness we can observe the difference between normal stress and chronic, out of control stress that wreaks havoc on our sleep, thoughts, and life. Then we can decide to do something about it. Having a few effective tools at hand can empower us to kick those negative effects of stress on body, mind and emotions, to the side lines. We can learn to use mindfulness to tame anxiety.
Here’s an example you might be able to relate to.
One major chronic stressor right now is pandemic re-entry anxiety.
According to the American Psychological Association, nearly half of all Americans feel anxious or uneasy about re-entering society and engaging in social interactions post-pandemic. How can we use mindful awareness to tame this type of chronic stress?
I want to share a few easy tips with you that can help you feel more grounded and in control when facing the stress of re-entering society.
1- Use your breath as an anti-anxiety tool when you need it. Mindfulness of the breath grounds our emotions and thoughts. Try a simple breathing technique that can be used anywhere, anytime— like slowing the breath down and equalizing your in and out-breaths, counting your breaths to 10, or consciously breathing down lower into your belly to relax your nervous system. (Practice some breathing techniques with me)
2- Train yourself to notice signs of distress or anxiety in your body. It looks different for different people, but stress can present as sweaty palms, nausea or ‘butterflies’, dizziness, loss of concentration, triggered chronic pain or headaches, forgetting to breathe, and more. But when you can become aware that you’re anxious you can take the very next opportunity to ground yourself. That may mean speaking to a friend or loved one, getting away from crowds for a few moments and finding a quiet moment, or practicing any breathing, meditation or affirmation exercise that helps you feel calm and at home in your body again.
3- As pandemic life changes and social interactions increase, start with a smile and eye contact. Even though you may be masked when you’re out in the world, your eyes will still reflect a genuine smile. Starting with this can set a positive tone for your interaction and give both parties a chance to tune in to the moment and connect more authentically.
4- Practice compassion and keep front of mind that many, many people are dealing with increased amounts of grief, loss, anxiety and depression right now due to the pandemic. When you’re out in the world, try to imagine what others may be going through before you respond and react habitually. Be mindful that frowns or dismissive behavior may not be about you at all— but rather an outward expression of their own inner thoughts and emotions. (Practice compassion meditations with me)
5- Try to avoid catastrophizing. Instead, shoot for a middle ground. Some things may not return after the pandemic or might not be quite the same ever again, but it’s important to try to stay aware and open to the idea of new opportunities popping up in their place. Focus on finding that grounded feeling in your body and try to observe all sides of the situation.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you acknowledge and learn about how you personally react to outside stressors. You may even notice that you perceive some neutral situations as worrisome.
When you feel pandemic re-entry anxiety and notice an uncomfortable stress response, listen to your body and try some of the above tools. Check it out, experiment. You’ll find what works for you and if you stick it can become a healthy new habit that prevents the negative effects of stress from messing with your energy, health and happiness.
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Jessica is a mind-body wellness expert with 20+ years of experience and degrees in human biology and behavioral neuroscience. Her first book on the topic of meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction is being published in April 2021. She’s the founder of CNTRD Wellness, a wellbeing company that specializes in online meditation, stress-reduction, and mindfulness for companies and individuals around the world.
Read more: www.cntrdwellness.com/about