During this time of COVID-19, many of us are experiencing high levels of anxiety. With so many elements of life on hold, we worry that the goals we set for 2020 will never come true.
Anxiety is one of the top reasons people come into therapy. And, let’s face it, we all experience anxiety at moments, but when our anxiety is keeping us up at night, or making our waking hours a living hell, it’s time to relax, refresh and refocus.
Following are 3 habits that you can cultivate during quarantine to relax your body and soul so that you can make your dreams come true and enjoy the process (even if that means changing your approach due to the circumstances of the virus).
The first habit to cultivate is learning to use your breath to relax your body. When we become afraid or anxious, our brain gets activated and triggers the fight/flight/freeze response (which I like to refer to as the 3-Fs). When our 3-F response is triggered, our bodies act as if there is a real threat that we need to either fight off or flee from, so all of our energy goes into preparing our bodies to fight or escape . . . less oxygen goes to the brain and more goes to our muscles to help us run or fight. Adrenalin pours into our system to support these physiological functions as well. Additionally, our digestion shuts off, our heart rate increases, and our breathing becomes shallow and quick. While these physiological reactions are exactly what we need to flee or fight, they are exactly the opposite of what we need to think, to come up with creative solutions, to communicate, or to plan. Plus, they wreak havoc on our bodies and our health (and we all know this is not the time to mess around with your health). The 3-Fs worked great in solving the kind of troubles cave men faced, but not so well for our modern-day challenges.
Habit #1: Spend 10 minutes a day following a focused breathing, mindfulness, or meditation practice.
By doing this consistently you will develop an internalized relaxation response, which is exactly what we need to cope with modern day stressors! There are 100s of apps, YouTube videos, and recordings to help you with this process. You are also welcome to visit my IGTV on my Instagram to follow one of my guides meditations. I post a new meditation every Monday on my "Meditation Monday" series (but rest assured, you can listen to the meditations any day of the week):
Habit #2: Become aware of your thoughts and decide if they are helpful and necessary or self-defeating.
The 2nd habit is to catch negative or self-defeating thoughts and refresh your internal dialogue. Just as a virus running in the background on your computer can make all of the other programs slow down or even fail, negative or self-defeating thoughts can keep you from moving towards your dreams. To begin catching your negative thoughts, either create a file in the notes section on your phone or carry a small notepad with you so that you can write down the thoughts that swirl through your mind each time you become anxious, then, really examine these thoughts.
Are the thoughts accurate or an exaggeration?
Are you doing “what-if” thinking and worrying about things that may never happen?
Are your repeating old scripts or negative messages that you learned from mom, dad or mean Aunt Sally?
If so, stop it!
If you're worrisome thoughts are inaccurate or exaggerated, stand up to them. Brush them away and give yourself the advice or encouragement that you would give a dear friend. If you can’t confront these demons on your own, enlist a good friend to help, or reach out to a therapist with experience in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I am of course happy to help you). Remember, the first step in changing your self-defeating thoughts is noticing them. When they run in the background without your awareness, you have no power to change them. So keep your eyes peeled for pesky thoughts that may no longer serve you!
Habit #3: Use visualization to refocus your attention away from your fears and toward your dreams and goals.
And, finally, the 3rd habit is to refocus your attention on where you want to go, rather than on your fears. Look to the future. Visualize your dreams and goals. Focus your attention on the possibilities and the steps you need to take to make these possibilities come true. One easy and fun way to do this is by visualizing your dreams coming true when you lay in bed at night, right before you fall asleep. Visualize the future you want. You can also do this by writing a letter to a friend (that you won’t really send) describing all of your dreams as if they have already happened and you are simply sharing what’s new in your life. When writing this letter, make sure you write it in the present tense, as if it were true, and let yourself enjoy the positive feelings that come with believing your dreams have already been actualized. You can also keep this letter nearby and read it when you need a pick-me-up.
Just by practicing these 3 easy habits of relaxing, refreshing and refocusing, you can actualize your goals and enjoy the process.