This was recorded as a bonus podcast episode on The Death Dialogues Project Podcast. You can listen to it HERE.
Whether people are consciously processing it or not, our reactions to life under the glow of the covid pandemic wildfire has been greatly influenced by the fear of Death.
And fear of Death is what usually lies beneath clinical anxiety symptoms- sometimes buried very deeply, sometimes floating on the surface.
Right now as university and other school children are being sent back to school, prepare for an upswing in stress and anxiety symptoms.
I know this is a time of heightened anxiety for everyone and it doesn’t take much more to put us into a tipping point during these times.
When you look at the concept that change is stress, and we can all only handle so much stress/change before it starts taking a toll and then look at the massive amounts of change that’s being brought by covid— as well as other stressors in our world and lives.
No wonder so many are really struggling.
There are so many layers to it: worry about the health implications and you and your loved one’s safety.
Concerns when you must venture out because you can’t trust that everyone else is taking the necessary precautions or that they are not infected.
What the current state has done to our support structures.
All this to-ing and fro-ing that our school aged kids are going through.
The list of what is coming up for people is really endless.
On top of their workloads, students sent back into the educational environment have autonomic nervous systems stuck in overdrive, sympathetic drives revving.
They are in a state of hyper-vigilance.
Always having to be on guard, never really being able to exhale, unwind and rest in a sense of security.
This state wreaks havoc with our mind/body wellness for sure.
And remembering— even for people that think I’ve got this, in times like these, our mind/body keeps the score and we can’t just deny the stress away.
If we don’t do what we can to manage our stress, it will manage us.
First of all for people stressing out: YOU ARE NORMAL.
It would be abnormal NOT to be experiencing undue stress/anxiety at this point.
But now that you’ve seen the signs and know that’s what is happening, it’s smart to do everything in your power not to let that wear your overall health and wellbeing down.
Keeping in mind that in my private practice I worked with many teens and adults who had severe panic attacks and were able to follow this type of guidance and treat them (even without meds) here are a few primary things I would focus on to start out with the goal of getting rid of severe stress symptoms including anxiety attacks:
1. Practicing quick coherence breathing 10 minutes before you get out of bed and 10 minutes prior to falling going to bed at night. This foundation practice is best done at times when the anxiety isn’t high so it helps lower that sympathetic drive that is stuck in high. Think of it as your regular medicine. That said, doing it throughout the day whenever you feel the need to center and immediately on feeling any sort of lead up to heightened anxiety is also important and will just feel good.
Steps for quick coherence breathing:
- focus your attention on your heart area (like a yoga technique)
-breathe in and our your heart area— 5-6 counts in and 5-6 counts out. The amount of counts doesn’t matter as much as the evenness. Athletes even do this during performance so it can be less counts in and out— or more.
- activate a positive emotion (a good one that I use is sending love to people; you are trying to keep the thinking brain turned off and just sit with that emotion). If you find it too hard to stay with the emotion have a phrase or mantra that is positively focused such as: I am calm on the in-breathe, and relaxed on the out-breath.
2. As just discussed, try thought substitution when you find your mind traveling off with stressful thinking: do the nice even breaths and replace your stress thoughts with pleasant thoughts that resonate: I am loved; I am at peace; this too shall pass.
3. Look into mindfulness. The short premise to remember is that if our mind is stressing out over the past or future, we are missing what is in the present moment. Let it be a cue to stop and look around, what do you see, hear, feel? Can you walk outside and sit by a tree, look at the grass, revel in the nature you see in the present moment. I sometimes even narrate to myself to keep the other thoughts at bay. I’m washing this glass and feel the smooth texture and water on my hands.
"worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength"- Corrie Ten Boom
4. With increasing mindfulness, you will notice sensations that might be leading to heightened anxiety or an anxiety attack. Let that be your signal to go back to your breathing and centring technique.
5. Consider journalling— keeping a notebook where you can write your concerns and feelings down and you know they are there so you don’t have to keep mentally reviewing them. The act of writing may give some relief and have you unravelling some issues and that could be helpful. If writing doesn’t resonate, that’s ok too.
Recall that the difference between the ongoing practice and just saving it to treat anxiety attacks is the difference between eliminating them and just warding them off when they are coming. The goal to feel best would be the elimination of them.
If you could really really invest in practicing just these techniques religiously for two weeks and notice the difference, that is where I’d recommend starting.
I hope this helps.
My philosophy when seeing clients was to work on the symptom control first before digging deeper because too much talking and processing when acutely symptomatic can actually lead to more rumination and an increase in troubling symptoms.
Many times on the other side of the practice people would report— yeah, my mind was just doing its own thing, now that I’m not so anxious/feel better, I can see those things I was worrying about aren’t really the issue.
OR they would have more clarity of what was really lying beneath and the exploration would not heighten their anxiety since they now had a way to manage it. I was always cautious about that threshold of not having the cure complicating the symptoms— giving tools first.
If this feels like too much or your symptoms are worsening, do consider getting into your medical practitioner for a good overall health review.
Remember: one day at a time; this too shall pass.
All things good,