Social distancing isn't a new thing for me or my family. We've been keeping our distance from sick people and social situations for over 5 years. Even before my son almost died, I was a germ-a-phobe and it would really mess with my inner peace and cause severe anxiety. I thought it might be useful to have a few tools that I find really help me when anxiety looms in my life. I'll share a few examples of how anxiety manifests in me, a few ways that I have learned to work out my anxiety when it creeps in, and a few things I do daily that help me cope better when I feel upset.
Anxiety isn't always logical, so trying to attack it with logical thoughts often just gets me more worked up. My mother-in-law once said, "You can't make sense of senseless things, honey." Those words have been a healing balm to me over the years. Her words help me remember that it's a waste of energy to try to make sense of some things. What's more important is anchoring myself in the present. Anxiety is often rooted in my fear of the future or my dread of the past.
Anxiety shows up in a few different ways:
1. Shortness of breath. Babies are a great example of how pain takes our breath away when they hold their breath before they cry. I find anxiety causes me breathless feelings.
2. Fast onset headache or stomach spasms. These symptoms often come soon after I've read social media or had a conversation about something upsetting.
3. Anger and frustration over simple things. Simple things like a jar lid won't come off and you feel like throwing a million explatives.
4. Excessive and pervasive need to feel in control of small weird things. The need to feel in control is a normal feeling. The need to control how your child wipes a dish with a sponge isn't normal, it's OCD, and that's a different blog for another time.
5. Feeling highly sensitive and afraid of being misunderstood. This is probably my worst one because it affects others in negative ways. My therapist called it "hyper vigilance" and it feels like you're going into battle, when you're really just walking to the mailbox to get the mail.
6. Perfectionism. Perfectionism isn't a personality trait. It's a learned coping mechanism that can be redirected to balanced thinking and acting. We cannot get perfect results in an imperfect world.
Before therapy I thought that perfectionism was just part of my personality. Now I understand that my body and mind are trying to tell me something when I'm feeling any of the above feelings.
I have a few go to things that help me when I'm battling anxiety:
1. Accept that this is how I feel and don't defend my feelings. Feelings are not moral or personal. They do indicate that hurt or fear may be looming.
2. Remind myself that this too will pass, and lay down. Calming myself with rest and breathing exercises helps alot.
3. Refuse to shame myself for how I've coped in the past. Resentment and shame are best friends in my battle with anxiety and I can get in a bad cycle of self-abasement. Respecting my resilience and strength helps me shift out of anxious thoughts.
4. Honor my victories over the darkest times in my life. Most of history is reflective of the ways God moved in ordinary people in extraordinary ways.
5. Focus on the present by using my senses. Taking time to breathe and focus on what I can feel right now physically helps me settle my feelings of anxiety.
6. Write out my feelings and then read them aloud. Tears and healing comes when you speak the truth. There is power when you speak your thoughts and decide if they are really worth feeling upset about.
Social distancing has some big triggers for me and I am doing practical things daily and hourly that help me keep myself anchored in my life.
1. Avoid calling this stuff "normal" because it's not. It's not normal to have to hoard flour and toilet paper. It's not normal to drive down the highway and see no cars. It's not normal to stay inside all day and feel frustrated. It wasn't normal when we did this five years ago and it's still not normal and that's ok.
2. Do things that bring your body peace. When my mind is overactive, doing things that make my body relax helps settle my thoughts. I do little things like a game on my app, watch a cooking show, bake a cake, crochet a dish cloth, anything that recenters me to the present.
3. Stretching and yoga are really helpful to me because when I am upset, my body gets really stressed too. Tension settles in your joints and yoga attaches breath to your movement. It's a great way to assess your stress and anxiety by how tightly wound you feel.
4. Guided meditation! I love this practice. It's not weird or mystical. It's actually very focused and healing. Guided meditation helps you catch your breath and relax your thoughts and body. Google it, try a couple out, and find one you like.
5. Be proactive and stay ahead of the anxiety. We have a lot of things in place in our family from our years of social distancing that are simple and inexpensive. Making small changes to your normal life is easier than doing a total overhaul.
6. Do social distancing on social media. Resentment and bitterness can hover around your heart when you're alone and isolated. Social media can really mess with my heart. Comparison is the killer of compassion, so avoid getting caught up in a fake social world.
Hope to rise again even during social distancing is possible. Stay connected to God, others, and yourself in creative ways and know that this too shall pass.