5 New Habits that Can Help Calm Anxiety Now

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With all of the fast-paced changes we are collectively experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no wonder that many of us are noticing a rise in our anxiety levels. Our day-to-day lives have been significantly disrupted, and social distancing efforts can leave many of us feeling isolated. Let’s review a few ideas on how you can help yourself calm anxiety right now in your own home:

Make a brain dump list.

If this concept is new to you, a brain dump is the act of dumping all the contents of our mind out onto paper, similar to dumping the contents of a backpack or purse out onto the table. It’s a really helpful go-to when our mind is racing because it helps us organize some of the mental chaos swirling around in our head (and I don’t know about you, but I definitely have a lot swirling around in my head right now).

All you need is a piece of paper or a journal, a pen, and a comfortable place to sit. Begin by jotting down every thought running through your mind – anything that pops into your head, no matter how random or stressful, can make its way out of your head and onto the page (You may find it helpful to set aside 10-15 minutes for you to solely focus on this activity).

This act of “brain dumping” helps us express and process our thoughts in ways we cannot do when we keep them inside, and it also gives us an opportunity to feel a sense of release as our thoughts are transferred onto the paper. Once you are done, take a deep breath in and out, and allow yourself to set your pen down and walk away from your list. With your mind feeling less cluttered, continue on with your day. You can come back to your list later if you want to or throw it away – there is no right or wrong way to handle it.

Embrace your inner child.

Remember how carefree we were when we were younger? Before we found ourselves adulting 24/7? As adults, we are obviously living through some pretty serious matters in the present-day and the uncertainty that comes with it brings us a lot of discomfort. It can be hard for us to redirect our attention away from our worries, stress, and fears right now – and all of these thoughts are a breeding ground for anxiety.

To help redirect your focus and boost your mood, take some time to reflect on the things that brought you joy when you were young and give yourself permission to enjoy them as an adult. Bonus points if you have kids and can participate in these activities together – it will help them manage their worries too! Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Did you enjoy coloring or drawing as a kid? There are a TON of wonderful and free adult coloring sheets online.
  • What about reading for fun? Find a new book on Audible or help out a small business and order one from a local bookstore.
  • Did you love spending time outdoors as a child? Go on a bike ride or pack a homemade picnic to enjoy under a nice tree outside (just remember to wave to other picnic-goers from afar).
  • Were you into homemade forts growing up? With more time at home, go ahead and bust out the blankets and pillows to re-create this experience for movie night.
  • What about sports or video games? There is no shame in revisiting your love for video games or enjoying some free online sports games for adults.
  • Did you dance around your room growing up? Kids really embrace the whole “dance like nobody’s watching” mindset, don’t they? Well, the good news is, absolutely no one is watching right now, so put on your favorite playlist and dance away!

Plan a daily or weekly check-in with your people.

You know who I’m talking about. The people who understand you and bring you joy. Talk to each other about what’s on your mind and ask each other how you are dealing with things day to day.

Thanks to technology, you can get creative here – schedule Facetime, Google Hangout or Zoom calls, stay connected in group chats (don’t forget to send as many memes as you want), set up Netflix watch parties (I suggest Tiger King for some quarantine escape entertainment), or play a group game such as Psych or Cards Against Humanity online for a little comic relief – after all, laugher definitely helps with anxiety too!

Remind yourself that social distancing does not mean we have to be isolated. In fact, a more appropriate term for all of this is “physical distancing”. We can still connect socially, even if it feels a little different than what we are used to.

Go on a mindfulness walk.

I’m not going to sit here and suggest that we all become fitness fanatics during a time like this. Is exercise good for our well-being? Absolutely! However, you, like many of us, may be feeling noticeably foggier or less motivated right now due to all the recent adjustments. We have been asked to get used to a lot of change really quickly, so if your amount of physical activity has decreased, please go ahead and give yourself some grace.

That being said, incorporating some type of movement and fresh air into our lives is helpful and will definitely help manage anxiety. Why not start slowly with a mindfulness walk? (Just try not to get too close to anyone else out there). A mindfulness walk is basically a regular walk, except you are paying attention. As you go on your walk, intentionally tune into your surroundings and your senses:

  • Do you see anything that you haven’t noticed before? Really look around and take in all the sights.
  • Is there anything nearby within your grasp? Reach out and notice how it feels in your hand.
  • What types of noises do you hear? Listen closely to all of the sounds around you.
  • What are you smelling? Notice the types of outdoor scents in the air.
  • Do you happen to taste anything? Perhaps you brought your water bottle or your favorite drink with you.

The act of practicing mindfulness helps us tune into the present moment, which is extremely effective in combating anxiety. You can even consider leaving your phone at home (after all, your brain could probably use a break from all the social media scrolling and news coverage).

Normalize it.

Lastly, during a time that feels so far from “normal”, remind yourself that it is ok to feel whatever it is that you are feeling in this moment. Let’s not forget that we have essentially been asked to totally transform our day-to-day lives overnight, which means we are all grieving the way things were before this happened. In this context, it makes sense that so many of us are struggling with elevated anxiety and stress levels – we have never done anything like this before, and there is definitely no “right” way to be or feel right now.

Practice a little self-compassion and repeat the following affirmations to yourself as many times a day as you need to:

  • “It makes a lot of sense that you feel this way”.
  • “It’s really okay that you’re not okay right now”.
  •  “You’re allowed to feel this way, even if you do not know why”.
  •  “You don’t need to feel pressured to stop feeling this way – you can take all of the time you need”.
About Kristen:

Kristen Suleman, M.Ed., LPC is a therapist based in Houston, TX. She has experience working with individuals of all ages; however, she specializes in working with younger adults struggling with issues relating to self-worth, perfectionism, life balance, and identity. Kristen enjoys empowering her fellow humans by helping others learn how to show up for themselves and make the most out of this whole life thing.

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