Lessening anxiety amidst Covid & chaos.

The past few months have not been without their fair share of emotional triggers. As if the generalized stress of living on this planet wasn’t enough, we now face a global pandemic & its economic fallout, racially incited violence, and a presidential election sure to be fraught with difficulty to say the least. It is no wonder many Americans are struggling with heightened anxiety.

Situational anxiety is induced by different things.

Present negative circumstance seemingly beyond your control (finances, interpersonal relationships, health & safety)

Worry about the future (finances, relationships, health & safety, add public speaking)

Conflict (interpersonal, global, political)

Paralyzing indecision (everything)

Any one of the aforementioned situations stirs fear of some kind in most of us, and it is human nature to succumb to worrisome thoughts about an uncertain future. We’ve heard the wise saying, “Regretting the past and worrying about the future prevents you from being present in the now.” How true that is. A sure way to quell anxiety is to quiet the mind; practice mindfulness, or mindful meditation. A simple online search of the definition of mindfulness reveals this: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Observe what is rather than spinning on what may be. What about when observing what is actually creates more fear anger and anxiety? Today, as I watch the riots in Los Angeles, and as I hear about the senseless tragedy of George Floyd and other black men in the weeks preceding his death, I feel anger and sadness. Letting that emotion come up and pass through me is important; it is vital not to stuff down such feelings in the name of zen. Feel your feelings, then free your feelings so they don’t get trapped in the body. Use your feelings to empower you, and by that I mean be realistic and be prepared but act from a place of positivity, not worry. Expect the best, prepare for the worst, yes? Playing devil’s advocate, I once heard someone say, “I don’t need to be ‘realistic’ about anything I don’t want in my future reality!” I say there is a difference between being pragmatic and informed, and wasting away with worry about potential disastrous future outcomes. This is also where gratitude comes in. You must know at least one person who keeps a gratitude journal; what a great example to the rest of us. By focussing our thoughts on the positive things we are grateful for each and every day, we naturally fall into positive expectation and the mind is steered away from undue worry.

In my bodywork sessions, I ask clients to clear the mind and focus only on their breath and the sound of my voice. Inhale. Exhale. Relax. I do this because as we allow the mind to continue spinning and worrying, our muscles assume the position of someone under stress and often in fight or flight mode. Such is the power of the mind over the physical body. To rest perpetually contracted muscles, one needs to first rest the mind.

Paralyzing indecision, our next category, is something I myself have been struggling with lately. How many decisions could I possibly be faced with while under lock-down at home? Perhaps the myriad choices that have always been available are now simply magnified in my field of vision. I recognize my privilege when my daily decisions include which yoga class to subscribe to, (there are so so many online classes now!) whose Instagram self-help post to watch, (because the coaches are coming out of the woodwork) which grocery delivery service has the best selection, and where to list my parents’ classic car for sale. I also think about how I can continue to support my clients’ emotional and physical well being while social distancing, how I can best help those community members in need, how I can best make a difference in this crazy world, how I can be a good example to my children. I wonder if I’ve done all my estate planning properly and have started saving enough for two college funds, though I try to rest easy in my and my husband’s sound judgement there.

Alone time is precious these days, and the pressure to maximize efficiency is strong. I can’t waste the 55 minutes I have to myself (away from the demands of motherhood) sorting out options or stuck in worry. It can be overwhelming…if you let it.

Research suggests that the more choices a human is faced with, the harder it is to actually make up one’s mind. I imagine life in a communist country and with a naive simplistic view wonder if I would like that better. No more 15 minutes spent in the cereal aisle pouring over ingredients and price tags; no, I would happily choose between the 2 boxes available to me. According to the New York times Feb. 2010 article, “although it has long been the common wisdom in our country that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people or push them into decisions that are against their own best interest.”

There’s been a lot of face time given to one positive aspect of the Covid-19 quarantine, and that is returning to a simpler time. A forced exit from the rat race has seen so many of us spending the quality family time we should have been taking advantage of all along. We’ve cultivated better friendships with long phone calls and old fashioned written letters. We’ve gotten our hands dirty in the garden, our bodies wet from running through the sprinkler with a niece or neighbor, and our souls cleansed through the meditation we finally have time to do. It all sounds so idyllic that I wonder how on earth anyone could still experience crippling anxiety.

I would argue that to truly embrace this paradigm shift we need to step back from the technology that appears to  make our lives easier, only to inject often paralyzing indecision and anxiety into them. Work not withstanding, how many hours did you spend today on your phone or computer? To reduce anxiety caused by too many choices we must remove ourselves from the situations necessitating all these decisions. More practically, set aside a small amount of time each day to attend to all the matters requiring your decision making attention. Spend as little time ruminating as possible; make educated decisions and then move on to living your life.

Be more selective with who you give your hours to. How many hours does Instacart get, and how many hours do your pets get? How many hours cultivate your spiritual nature, and how many hours are you willing to give up to worry and stress? It becomes easier when you think of your daily hours as dollars; you only get 24 a day, who gets them? I’m not willing to give mine up easily, they are precious and they are mine for the spending. Each hour of the day is a little gift to give to myself or those I care for ideally.

If this post resonates with you, take a moment to place one hand on your belly and one directly behind the belly on your lower back. Breathe deep, directing your breath into the spleen. Too much pensiveness and worry can adversely affect the spleen, it is the organ where we hold anxiety from the perspective of Chinese medicine and The Cotu Method. Send healing breath there now, prepared to observe and feel whatever comes up. Be honest and gentle with yourself. Anxiety feeds on feelings of poor self worth, so don’t go there. Be patient with yourself and be willing to explore things in your past to identify how they may affect you today.

I leave you with a poem you may know from the end of the song Knights in White Satin by The Moody Blues. It is by Graham Edge. It is poignant and it is brilliant and I hope you carry it with you into tomorrow.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom
Watch lights fade from every room
Bedsitter people look back and lament
Another day’s useless energy is spent
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one;
Lonely man cries for love and has none
New mother picks up and suckles her son
Senior citizens wish they were young
Cold-hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colours from our sight
Red is grey is yellow white
But we decide which is right
And which is an illusion
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