Ironic that Mental Health Awareness Month landed smack dab in the middle of the pandemic? I think not! The craziness of the times has made it glaringly obvious that mental health awareness is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity! Over the last month, the idea of mental health as an essential part of overall wellness has been all over social media feeds and the news. People who had never suffered from a panic attack or anxiety in their life, are now painfully aware of the mental anguish that consumes you when the anxiety is too high and no coping mechanisms are in place.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety for the last decade, I can tell you...times are rough. The coping mechanisms I had in place in the past are not working as well as they used to, and the things that used to not be a big deal, are monumental in the eyes of my current pandemic anxiety. I am sure that many can relate, and question...will this ever get better? I came to a focus on mental health as a nutritionist through my own painstaking journey to find solutions that were within my control and could make a lasting impact on my overall health and wellness. So what do we do?
Priority #1, don't go at this alone! Having a person to talk to is crucial to dealing with anxiety. If you don't have a mental health professional on your team, find one. If you don't have insurance or can't afford one...reach out to someone who is in your "tribe". This may be a fellow parent, a member of the church or your spiritual group, your spouse, or a stranger you met at yoga. You don't have to bare your soul to them, but having someone on your team is crucial.
How are you coping? What are you doing to reduce stress, build resilience, or deal with life flying by at a high rate of speed throwing things straight at your head? Learning how to bring yourself back to your body, grounding yourself, or pausing can be the difference between slight annoyance and full-blown panic! Now is where you are going to expect me to say....go meditate! And you roll your eyes, and say...sure, that what they all say! Newsflash - it works! Not only do I have my own anecdotal evidence from clients and myself, but science backs it up!! Meditation increases happiness, helps to tame a wandering mind and improves cognitive functions. I have found on my own journey that daily meditation, even for 5 minutes a day, greatly decreases my anxiety. It has aided me with bringing my attention to my breath and slow my heart rate. Feeling like I can't breathe and heart rate increases are classic anxiety symptoms for me. Having taught myself how to bring my attention to my breath and slow or stop these symptoms in their tracks!
Grounding exercises can be equally effective in the middle of the anxiety danger zone. Becoming grounded allows you to come back to your body instead of floating outside of reality. Have you ever felt that you were so anxious that you had no control over your mind and body? If you answer YES, then grounding is for you. My favorite grounding exercise is so simple, you can literally do it anywhere, at any time. No one will ever notice that you are in the middle of getting your shit together as quickly as possible.
~ Take a deep breath and look around you
~ Find five items around you that look calming or comforting. Can't find anything comforting, notice five things that have shape and texture.
~ Touch four things near you, process how they feel. Are they soft, hard, rough?
~ Listen for three sounds around you. Your breath, the birds, a car driving by, any sound you hear.
~ Breath in, notice two smells.
~ Finally, notice one thing you taste right now
Do you feel better? Are you back in your body and calmed? If not, do it again...but I bet you feel a bit better than before.
Building resilience to stress does not reduce the amount that we face on a daily basis, but it does give us the capacity to recover quickly and with less effort than before. The ability to spring back when panic has set in is crucial for coping with the current stresses of the time. Will it solve the problem, no....probably not, but it will allow you to step-back and reapproach the problem with a clear mind. Having a clear mind can make a problem that is a "10" on the stress scale seem like an "8", which is an improvement in itself. It takes practice, be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself to grow in the process. So go now...meditate, what's it going to hurt?