If you’re feeling more stressed than usual right now, you’re not alone. A recent poll showed that 45% of adults in the U.S. believe their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of that negative feeling is rooted in feeling powerless. While it’s true that we can’t change the current situation, we can still control the way we address those feelings and deal with our stress. Two recent YWA speakers shared some important tips for controlling what you can — and managing what you can’t.
Using Mindfulness to Work Through Anxious Thoughts
Mindfulness is “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Today, mindfulness is frequently used as part of counseling and stress-reduction programs to help people tap into an awareness of their thoughts and feelings. Once you’re aware of those thoughts and feelings, that mindfulness can help you respond constructively instead of letting your anxiety and stress control you.
Gloria Chan Packer, lead advisor and owner of Recalibrate, works to provide people and corporate teams with the tools they need to deal with uncertainty and live more enriching lives, even when things are more uncertain than ever.
In the mindfulness workshop for YWA members in April, she shared a five-step process for working through our anxious thoughts. The point of this process, Gloria says, is to work towards “agency rooted in reality over grasping for unrealistic control.”
1. Identify the fear.
The power of names shows up in stories across time. Do you remember the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin? The protagonist of the story was under the control of the supernatural creature Rumpelstiltskin, but to free herself — all she had to do was call him by his name. The first important thing you have to do when you feel anxiety is to name it. Mindfulness is all about nonjudgemental awareness.
2. Relate it to your past.
Our brain has been gathering data our whole lives. Over time, our reactions to thoughts and feelings can become automatic. The point of mindfulness is to take the “automatic” out and be more aware of exactly how we’re responding and why. Are there events from your past that might be making this fear even more palpable for you?
3. Is there realistically anything you could do today to change the feared outcome?
The key word here is “realistically.” For example, if you’re worried about a big presentation at work, the things you could do would include preparing thoroughly, practicing your delivery, and getting quality sleep the night before. But you can’t change how anyone else will feel about it — that’s outside your realm of influence.
4. How will you respond if the feared outcome does occur?
This isn’t “worst case scenario” time. This is about unpacking exactly what you want to do or feel in the event that your fear comes true. What will you do if your presentation bombs? There’s always a constructive way to respond. Maybe you can talk to your boss about how you can improve for next time, or sign up for a public speaking course.
5. Care for yourself and your feelings.
The point of this exercise isn’t to banish your anxious thoughts — it’s to bring them back into reality. Recognize them for what they are, in a mindful way. Sit with your feelings, validate them, and be compassionate with yourself.
Anxiety and stress aren’t just emotions — they impact your physical body, too. YWA member Shannon Dolan is a nutritional therapy practitioner and health coach, and as part of our member TED Talks series, she shared her perspective on how to care for our bodies and protect them from the negative impacts of stress.
What you eat is important! Make sure your meals are balanced — Shannon suggests 30% protein, 30% healthy fat, and 40% carbs. To make sure you’re getting a variety of nutrients, challenge yourself to get as many colors of food on your plate as you can. (Note to self: Sour Patch Kids do not count.)
You need to exercise in a healthy way for your body. That doesn’t mean going from couch potato to Cross-Fit enthusiast in a matter of days. Especially if you’re already feeling stressed and overwhelmed, a workout too high in intensity can be almost as bad as none at all.
This takes us back to where we started. Mindfulness, staying positive, and working actively to control our stressors and reactions to them. In addition to Gloria’s 5 step process, Shannon also recommends developing a morning routine, meditating regularly, journaling your thoughts, and practicing gratitude.
Big thanks to Gloria Chan Packer and Shannon Dolan for sharing these tips with YWA members! If you’re a current member of YWA, you can watch their sessions on demand by logging into your account on the YWA website. The mindfulness session with Gloria and part one of the member TED Talks (Shannon was the first speaker) are available in the Resources section.
Please note that none of this information is intended to be construed as medical advice. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or severe stress, please consider reaching out to a professional resource.