Even in the best of times (and right now, we are nowhere near “the best of times”) stress, worry, and often overwhelming pressures are always turning up the burners under our life. Our attentions are constantly pulled in a thousand different, and often conflicting, directions. We read social media and get angry. We watch the news and feel powerless. We try to do our jobs and raise our families and feel overwhelmed. Our emotions end up on a runaway freight train headed for a panic attack.
Here are a few tricks to help slow you down.
1- Be aware of your thoughts. Really pay attention to what you’re thinking. Your thoughts drive your emotions.
2- If you find you are entertaining lots of negative thoughts, or maybe you’re even in the middle of a negative thought spiral, say this word gently to yourself. “Stop.” Say it in your head or even out loud, but say it kindly. Like you were talking to a young child you love very much.
3- Great, now you have your own attention! If your brain is still trying to gallop away on that negative stallion, take it softly by the shoulders and repeat, “Stop.” Then look your brain in the eyes and say. “Okay? Can we do this? Let’s stop. Let’s take some breaths.”
4- Take some breaths. Really do this. I know it sounds lame, do it anyway because it really helps.
5- Then say to your brain. “I know there are a million bad, horrible, annoying, terrifically terrible things you’re very, very worried about. But, did you know that worrying yourself into an anxiety attack really WON’T DO ANYTHING to make all that awful stuff go away. Honest to God, freaking yourself out changes nothing and actually makes it that much harder to work toward some solutions for whatever might be in your power to change.
6- More breaths here. Five, ten, twenty, take as many as you need until some sense of centered begins to return.
7- Once you have the tiniest grip, make your brain think of one positive thing in your life. Just one. Even if it’s only the fact that you are alive, breathing, able to read and think. Hang onto this thought and focus on the fact that this is a good thing in your life right now.
8- Awesome. Now can you think of a second thing? Try it. You have shelter, food, a person you love or that loves you in your life. A dog? Anything. Focus on those two good things.
9- Now, please go outside. More breaths. Big deeps ones filled with some fresh air. Start walking. Walk to the end of your block, the edge of your neighborhood. To that park, tree, trail, monument, building, whatever it is that is far enough for you to get some movement and change of environment.
10- Try to imagine letting go of some of the cognitive weight you’re carrying around. Obviously you can’t let it all go–you’re living and working through this life, I get it. But do you really need to bear all of it all at the same time? Prioritize your concerns by hanging onto one or two things that both need your immediate attention AND are within your control to do something about in the short term.
11- This is a big one: Pay attention to outside influences on your thinking and emotions. News, social media, toxic people. Either take a break, cut these out, or limit your exposure to these influences. This might mean getting your news from a single source once a day, limiting social media (especially those really toxic ones. Hint: if you feel angry reading certain people’s posts, that’s a big clue that maybe it’s time to switch them off), and reducing contact with your IRL people who are not good for your mental health. It might take some time, and retraining of old habits, but it’s worth it. Picture yourself reducing those negative influences and replacing them with more positive ones. Small changes every day, little by little, it adds up. In a month, you’d have a more positive outlook and a real sense of personal agency over your life and environment. This, consequently, would lead to having the ability to problem-solve, and actually do something, about many of those things that were worrying you in the first place.
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