Cant concentrate? Losing sleep? Binge-eating your feelings?
In a year of unprecedented stress, the nation collectively appears to be heading toward peak anxiety this week. People are sharing stories of stress eating, clearing their calendars (who could sit through a Zoom meeting during a time like this?) and threatening to stay in bed for a week.
Weve had this unending momentum of a steady stream of stuff just going wrong since the beginning of March, said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a meditation teacher and author of the book Radical Dharma. The groundlessness that people feel is not really something the human body was meant to sustain over long periods of time.
While theres nothing you can do to speed election results or a coronavirus vaccine, you do have the power to take care of yourself. Neuroscientists, psychologists and meditation experts offered advice about the big and small things you can do to calm down. Here are 10 things you can try to release anxiety, gain perspective and gird yourself for whatever comes next. You can also click here to get access to resources in order to help relieve stress and anxiety. You can also click here
to get access to resources in order to help relieve stress and anxiety.
As you feel your anxiety level rising, try to practice self interruption. Go for a walk. Call a friend. Run an errand. Just move your body and become aware of your breathing.
Interrupt yourself so you can shift your state, said Williams. Get your attention on something else. Focus on something that is beautiful. Get up. Move your body and really shift your position. I think people really need to move away from wherever it is they are and break the momentum.
FOCUS ON YOUR FEET
When you feel your stress level rising, try this quick calming exercise from Dr. Judson A. Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University:
"Take a moment to focus on your feet. You can do this standing or sitting, with your feet on the ground. How do they feel? Are they warm or cold? Are they tingly? Moist or dry? Wiggle your toes. Feel the soles of your feet. Feel your heels connecting with your shoes and the ground beneath you."
Its a different way to ground yourself, said Brewer. Anxiety tends to be in your chest and throat. Your feet are as peripheral as you get from your anxiety zones.
MOVE FOR THREE MINUTES
It just takes a short burst of exercise three minutes to be exact to improve your mood, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University whose latest book is The Joy of Movement. Do jumping jacks. Stand and box. Do wall pushups. Dance.
If you give me three minutes, it works, as long as youre moving your body in ways that feel good to you, said McGonigal, who suggests picking an inspiring song to get you moving. Anytime you move your muscles and get your heart rate up, youll get a boost in dopamine and sense yourself as alive and engaged. Movement for me is a way I sense my own strength and feel connected to hope and joy.
TACKLE A HOME PROJECT
Get rid of clutter, make a scrapbook, get a new comforter, hang artwork.
Its not frivolous to do something like declutter, organize or look around your space and think about how to make it a supportive place for you or anyone else you live with. Its one of the ways we imagine a positive future, said McGonigal, whose TedTalk on stress has been viewed nearly 24 million times. Anything you do where you take an action that allows you to connect, whether consciously or not, with this idea that theres a future youre moving toward, thats like a hope intervention. Its something youre doing now to look after your future self.
TRY FIVE-FINGER BREATHING
This simple practice is easy to remember and is often taught to children to help them calm themselves in times of high stress. (I tried this the other day in the dentist chair, and it helped a lot!) Brewer has created a video explaining the technique, which works by engaging multiple senses at the same time and crowding out those worrying thoughts.
STEP 1: Hold your hand in front of you, fingers spread.
STEP 2: Using your index finger on the opposite hand, start tracing the outline of your extended hand, starting at the wrist, moving up the pinkie finger.
STEP 3: As you trace up your pinkie, breathe in. As you trace down your pinkie, breathe out. Trace up your ring finger and breathe in. Trace down your ring finger and breathe out.
STEP 4: Continue finger by finger until youve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down.
CONNECT WITH NATURE
Spend time outside. Watch birds. Wander amid the trees. Take a fresh look at the vistas and objects around you during an awe walk. Recent research shows that consciously taking in the wonders of nature amplifies the mental health benefits of walking.
Numerous studies support the notion that spending time in nature and walking on quiet, tree-lined paths can result in meaningful improvements to mental health, and even physical changes to the brain. Nature walkers have quieter brains: scans show less blood flow to the part of the brain associated with rumination. Some research shows that even looking at pictures of nature can improve your mood. Our brains, it seems, prefer green spaces. One small study found that exercisers exposed to the color green found it easier to exercise and were in a better mood than exercisers exposed to gray or red.
REDISCOVER YOUR DIAPHRAGM
Many of us are vertical breathers: When we breathe, our shoulders rise and fall, and were not engaging our diaphragm. To better relax, learn to be a horizontal breather. Inhale and push your belly out, which means youre using your diaphragm. Exhale and your middle relaxes.
For a deep (and somewhat complicated) dive on belly breathing, grab a tape measure and take this breathing IQ self-exam from Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of Breathing for Warriors.
If youre breathing with your shoulders, youre using auxiliary muscles, and youll have a higher heart rate, higher blood pressure and higher cortisol, Vranich said. If you breathe diaphragmatically, youre more apt to be calmer.
Give your mind a break by watching this cat comfort a nervous dog, or check out the jellyfish cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Youll find more fun diversions on our new interactive Election Distractor, including a digital stress ball, a virtual emotional support dog and Donald J. McNeil Jr., The New York Times infectious disease reporter, giving you optimistic news about the coronavirus vaccine.
UNLEASH THE AROMATICS
Take a lavender foot bath, burn a scented candle or spritz the air with orange aromatherapy. Its only a temporary reprieve, but it just might help get you through election night.
A study of 141 pregnant women found that rubbing or soaking feet with lavender cream significantly reduced anxiety, stress and depression. Another study of 200 dental patients found that orange or lavender aromatherapy helped them relax before treatment. Lavender baths lower cortisol levels in infants. Even antidepressants work better when combined with lavender therapy.
Why does aromatherapy, particularly lavender, appear to have a calming effect? Some research suggests that lavender reaches odor-sensitive neurons in the nose that send signals to the parts of the brain related to wakefulness and awareness.