Anxiety increased for many during the pandemic. Parts of the world we knew and counted on disintegrated before our eyes, and feelings of stress and confusion were left in their place. As many know, increased stress can be detrimental to your health and well-being. When your body gets stuck in the ‘flight, fight, or freeze’ mode, your immunity is compromised. There are many things in society you cannot control, and this explains some of the increased stress and fear. You have a choice – your thoughts are something you have absolute control over. No one thinks for you (although a few in your life might wish they could!). You can choose to focus on things you DO have control over. Below are some suggestions for increasing your sense of well-being – and decreasing the amount of stress in your life. Society is rebuilding a new world, and you will be in no state to help put it back together if you do not take care of yourself. Being a martyr helps no one, least of all yourself.
Consider what you put into your body. Are you giving your body strength to repair itself and resist viruses with whole, nutrient-dense foods and beverages, or are you mindlessly consuming packaged products devoid of life force? Eat the rainbow. Start a slow food movement in your household. Avoid caffeine (which exacerbates anxiety). Take time to consciously chew and enjoy each morsel of food. As the saying goes, your body is a temple. How are you honoring it?
Sleep deprivation is rampant in our fast-paced society. Many feel they get “enough,” yet are never truly rested. Are you able to NOT set an alarm, and instead allow your body a few extra moments (or hours) of sleep? Can you make more time for sleep by giving yourself a hard screen time limit in the evening and then sticking to it? The body does most of its repairing while it slumbers and sleeping is a vital activity needed for optimal health. Choosing to rest over mindlessly zoning out over media will produce innumerable benefits over time.
Influence how your body reacts to stress by consciously controlling your breath. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, this can trick your body into believing all is right in the world, which will flip it out of the “fight or flight” (stressed) response and into the “rest and digest” (relaxed) response. Your body doesn’t repair or digest well when in the “fight or flight” mode. Take 5 minutes to breathe consciously. A simple exercise is to slowly inhale to a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and slowly exhale to a count of 8. Invest in your health with regular breathwork. This can mean two minutes, three times each day to start. Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder. Ease into the practice and begin again when you falter. And remember not to chastise yourself for forgetting, as this increases one’s stress.
Take a walk, follow an online yoga or aerobics class, do jumping jacks, dance, run around the block, go to the gym. Or, get used to moving more by simply standing up out of your chair to walk around the room several times each hour. Experiencing the force of gravity is important for the body. Setting an alarm for exercise makes it easier to incorporate into your days. Movement stimulates the lymphatic system, which doesn’t have its own pump like the cardiovascular system. When you get your cardiovascular system working harder from exercising, the lymphatic system uses the movement from the blood pumping to get itself going. The lymphatic system works to eliminate waste & toxins; it also moves white blood cells around in the body (which work to fight viruses). Exercise produces those feel-good endorphins in many folks; it can also improve your ability to respond proactively to stressful situations.
In addition to mingling with other humans on your daily path, form a new (or renewed) relationship with nature. The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has gotten a good amount of press in recent years in how it helps reduce stress and tension in many people’s lives. Doctors in Japan actually give people prescriptions to forest bathe! If you aren’t wanting or able to find a park in your area, you can still observe nature. Watch a tree move in the breeze, go outside and feel the air or rain on your skin (close your eyes for added benefit), watch birds hop around on the ground or fly in the sky, follow a cat’s (or an ant’s) path, view the sun rise or fall for the entire process, be a shadow to your pet for 15 minutes. Take a break from the artificial world and drop into the natural world. If nothing else, the distraction from the news can be a welcome respite. Nature’s goal isn’t to keep people in fear in order to increase viewership (and sell ads) – it is there to support you in whatever way you allow it into your world.
For those who like to use tangible items to manage stress, consider the following:
- Drink chamomile tea. Steep a bag (or two) covered for 5-15 minutes. This herb has a calming effect on the nervous system and helps many with anxiety.
- Use essential oils. Put “relaxing” ones in a diffuser, or put a drop on a tissue to smell. There are only a few that can be safely applied to the skin, so err on the side of caution and add a few drops to a carrier oil if you want to apply a scent directly to your skin; examples are almond, grapeseed, and jojoba oils. And, despite some companies saying they are safe to ingest, please do not do this (they are very hard on your kidneys). While a few can be ingested, only a trained and practicing aromatherapist can advise how to safely do this. Examples of calming essential oils are lavender, bergamot, clary sage, chamomile, rose, vetiver, and geranium.
- Use Rescue Remedy as needed. This is “energetic” medicine – a classic combination of flower essences formulated by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930’s. It helps people get into the present moment. It’s said that depression comes from dwelling on the past, anxiety comes from worrying about the future, and peace can only be experienced by being in the eternal present moment. Sometimes we just need a little support in redirecting our focus.
Lastly, please remember to be kind to yourself. We are all going to get stressed at one time or another in our lives. It’s normal. Just notice it, but don’t beat yourself up when you get caught up in a feeling you do not prefer. This judgment adds unnecessary stress to your days. Kindness and compassion for yourself are necessary if you are to support others in your life with these attributes; you cannot demonstrate fully what you do not embody. Take care…and remember to breathe!