How to recognize and redirect anxious energy
Perhaps the most difficult part of this "pandemic period" is the uncertainty each of us are experiencing. Uncertainty about who and what to believe; uncertainty about actions we should be taking, and how our personal and local economies will be effected; uncertainty about the new steps and procedures that will be announced and enforced from day to day.
This year has offered up a hefty invitation for the practice of volatility. And in a society that's largely bred on the precepts of security, safety, and structure, it's understandable why the collective is feeling more than a little anxious.
Uncertainty, much like a virus itself, works to fuel the anxiety-laden fires that many of us feel burning within. That's due to the fear centers in our brain being chemically triggered by feelings associated with uncertainty.
Luckily, learning how this process works means giving ourselves the chance to cut it off at the pass and develop productive coping mechanisms; hindering the harmful effects that uncertainty/anxiety can impose.
1. Understand that anxiety is a basic human response.
Anxiety is intended to keep you safe during times of fight or flight; helping you activate choices that will keep you safe in future instances. However, when that fear is combined with uncertainty (aka not knowing what to do or what to expect), it can quickly take its toll on your mental health.
And when anxiety is spread by social contagion - defined as the spread of affect from one person to another - it can lead to something even more problematic...panic.
2. Recognize triggers contributed by social contagion and limit access.
Social distancing + the power of social media = proof that you don't even need physical encounters to catch an "emotional infection" these days.
As helpful as intentions may be out there, constantly scrolling through the latest news, speculations, and rumors on your phone is like walking through an extremely crowded room during flu season (what's that in 2020, even?) with everyone sneezing directly in your face. A mask will not save you there.
The more you read, the more worry you acquire, and that gets spread to others. It's the name of the social media game. And you alone have the power to limit your playing time.
3. Mindfulness is key to reclaiming your calm.
Anxiety is not only mentally and emotionally exhausting, it takes a toll on your physical body as well. But before you get anxious about the affects of feeling anxious, know that research has proven that the practice of mindfulness has the power to provide ease on all levels.
Jud Brewer, MD PhD, addiction psychiatrist, and neuroscientist specializing in anxiety and habit change announced:
"We’ve found that even simple, app-based mindfulness training significantly reduces anxiety in healthcare workers. We found a 57% reduction in clinically-validated measures of anxiety in stressed physicians. This kind of training also reduces anxiety in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and we found a 63% reduction in anxiety in our NIH-funded randomized controlled trial."
Aside from your mindfulness practice, when you are among those unknowingly spreading social contagion, you can randomly take a moment to pause and notice how it feels to be calm among the storm.
Really savor the feeling of noticing how much better calm feels over feeding into the anxiety. This is one of the most handy ways to hack your brain's reward center and reminds your mind that it has a choice in how to respond.
4. Take it a day at a time, starting fresh as often as necessary.
Your brain is hardwired to focus on the future, and now, with all of the uncertainty regularly swirling around, is likely not the time to fixate too much on 6 months down the road.
When you catch your train of thought wandering too far ahead, embrace the practice of a mindful pause, and remind yourself that your power lies in taking it one day at a time.
By Sam Jump