eCONnections

Create a calm and mindful daily practice to manage anxiety by following these strategies

It is ironic that during this unprecedented rapidly changing COVID-19 health pandemic, a time when we most need each other, we have been asked to isolate ourselves. It is clear that as we continue to learn more about as well as how to overcome the health risks associated with COVID-19, this leads to feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and stress. These are natural feelings and rest assured, you are not alone. In response to these feelings, we provide the following tips if you or a family member is feeling worried or feeling anxious about the constant news and media updates. Fortunately, at the College of Nursing, we have faculty with expert training and experience in responding to and helping people deal with each of these feelings. We felt it important to share these with our CON family.

Important to staying healthy, particularly in stressful times like these, is being mindful of our individual responses to stress and anxiety. Stress is a biological and psychological response that we experienced when we encounter a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with. Initially your body responds to stress through activation of the sympathetic nervous system which results in a ‘fight or flight’ response. Recognizing this alarm response in yourself is important - it is where you can choose how you will respond. For example, you can choose to respond with gentleness and compassion or with heightened awareness, agitation, or perhaps a constant state of urgency. Each of us can practice and use skills to help ease our anxiety, worry and fear. Included below are some suggestions for building a sense of calm, creating resilience and enhancing our coping abilities during this challenging time.

  • First develop some awareness for how your body responds to stress (e.g., where do you feel it?). Then gently remind yourself that your body is sending you a message and you have an opportunity to intentionally practice a focused and calm response. For example, by closing your eyes or using relaxation breathing for a few minutes; diverting your attention to something more pleasing; or engaging in physical activity, such as taking a walk outside, may assist in altering your body’s stress response.
  • Identify and set an ‘Intention’ each day. An ‘Intention’ can be as simple as, my intention today is to practice and remain calm in my response to stress or I will practice patience within myself today. Intentions are powerful and soothing.
  • Visualize yourself and your family as being and staying healthy. Visualization helps move your energy from fear to faith and hope.
  • Create a quiet retreat space in your home where you can go to feel a sense of calm and peace. Create a space where you are comfortable. This could be as simple of sitting on pillows on the floor and surrounding yourself with aromatherapy, candles, music, or greenery.
  • Explore web-based applications (apps) that provide mindfulness practice techniques, breathing exercises, and/or guided visualizations. Many of these applications are free, such as Insight timer, Calm, Headspace.
  • Connect with family and friends regularly via the internet. FaceTime, Marco Polo Houseparty are popular apps that provide real-time engagement and that helps people feel connected.  Research demonstrates that we feel best when we have and maintain connection and support from others. For your teens, Airtime and Netflix Party are apps that allow them to watch movies and TV shows while they engage and chat with friends.
  • Cultivate a sense of gratitude. Practice thinking of all the things you are grateful for and intentionally review these daily. Consider building a gratitude wall at your home, use sticky notes and update these throughout the day. Place them in a central location and use gratitude stickies to form the shape of a tree or a heart or something that has meaning and resonates with your family.
  • Finally, reflect on a previous difficult time in your life. As you reflect back, think about the personal things you used to get you through that difficult time. Think about the strategies that helped you to cope and manage your anxiety and stress. Perhaps previous coping and management strategies will be helpful again.

Skills to deal with your anxious thoughts

 

1. Self-statements/cognitive coping

  • Self-Statements: Statements that you can say to yourself to help you feel better. An example might be, “I can get through this; this will pass.”
  • Cognitive Coping: Use your skills to identify the thoughts bothering you and see if you can identify an alternative true way to think about what is happening. For example, gently asking yourself if the thought you are having is true. You may want to write the thought on paper if this is helpful. Replace the thought with a more helpful statement or thought.

 

2. Redirect unhelpful thoughts

  • Notice if you are experiencing self-critical or otherwise discouraging thoughts. Make a choice to not be reactive to these thoughts, and rather, redirect by identifying something positive and enjoyable you can do.
  • Think about a person you admire and who supports you during difficult or stressful times. What do you imagine that person they would say to encourage you? Put this into action.

 

3. Reality check

  • Ask yourself: Is there something I need or can do about this situation right now? Or, ask yourself: If there is another way to think about this?
  • Radical Acceptance: Is a technique where you adjust your thoughts towards acceptance (like, “This will pass” or “I can get through this) rather than focusing on negative thoughts (like, “This shouldn’t be this way” or “That’s not fair!”). This is a method of acknowledging reality the way it is, instead of fighting against it.

 

4. Self-soothing skills

  • Exercise: Get your body moving and Change your focus.
  • Music: Use a relaxing or lively tune or music that inspires you. Consider dancing to music which combines the effects of exercise with music therapy.
  • Relax your body: Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Download guided relaxation techniques (apps like, Insight TimerCalm; YouTube series by Tara Brach). Take a bath or shower. Do yoga.
  • Comfort Item: Hold onto or wrap yourself in something comforting – a blanket, jacket, scarf, stuffed animal – anything that helps you feel more comforted.
  • Imagery: Look at and direct your attention towards picture or photograph of a beautiful and calming scene (i.e., beach, mountains, flowers, wildlife, family photos).
  • Visualization: Visualize a place you love, either that you have visited, or a place you image would be relaxing for you. Describe that place, paying attention to use of your five senses (e.g., the beach: what it looks like, how the sand feels, what it sounds like, what it smells like).

 

5. Do something positive

  • Do At Least One Positive Thing Each Day: Commit to doing something positive for yourself everyday or several times a day, or for someone else. Every day is an opportunity to do something to move you towards your goals or towards being more positive.
  • Socialize: Call someone and talk about something pleasant, encourage them to talk about something pleasant, plan to do something pleasant. It is just as important to have someone to talk with when something is bothering you. Call a friend or someone going through a similar situation and talk about your feelings and what is bothering you – but keep it time-limited as this could result in increased feelings of anxiety and/or stress.
  • List YOUR Achievements: What have you accomplished that was challenging for you? List things that have required a lot of effort and that you have accomplished. Think about kind things people have said about you or that you do well, and write them down.
  • Prayer: Use whatever prayers, rituals, spiritually inspiring readings, music or activities that get you in touch with something bigger than yourself and that gives hope.

There are many strategies that people use to cope and manage anxiety and stress, find those that work for you and put them into action. If you need assistance in coping and managing anxiety and stress, please contact us. We are available to assist you during this unprecedented time of concern and social distancing.

 

Joy Lauerer, DNP PMHCNS BC

Associate Professor

Lead Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Faculty

Email:  lauerer@musc.edu


Tatiana M. Davidson, PhD                 

Associate Professor

Licensed Clinical Psychologist   

Email:  davudst@musc.edu