If you are like many of my clients right now, you may be experiencing some increased anxiety or worry about the coronavirus and all the change and uncertainty it’s bringing.
On top of that you may be dealing with some real-life challenges, like how to implement social distancing or quarantine, get care from your providers, take care of your family, or pay your bills.
So, today I want to give you a simple but effective tool for how to relieve anxiety and stress and flip your focus to things that can help you feel safer.
First know that it makes perfect sense to be feeling however you are feeling right now. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time and space to adjust. Rest and nurture yourself as much as you can.
And then… start leading your lizard brain!
Your lizard brain (or what is often called the reptilian brain) is the part of your brain that is constantly scanning your environment for possible danger. Which is useful when there is a real and present danger in front of you that you can run from or fight with…like a tiger or a bear.
While the coronavirus and the impacts of social distancing can admittedly feel dangerous, most of that feeling is actually coming from all the negative predictions your brain is making about what might happen.
Right now, if you’re reading this, you are most likely not in immediate danger.
However, thoughts like…”What if I get sick? What if a loved one gets sick? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if my pain gets worse?” can make you feel as if you are.
In the absence of knowing what will happen, your lizard brain will come up with every worst case scenario possible.
But the truth is that you don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s equally likely that the opposite predictions could also be true.
What if you stay healthy. What if you can pay your bills. What if your pain gets better?
What if everything is going to be ok?
The first step in knowing how to relieve anxiety and stress, is to become more aware of your thinking so that you can start making conscious choices about it.
Here’s a tool to help you do that…
Step 1 Observe your thoughts in writing.
Writing in order to observe your thoughts is a powerful tool. This isn’t just free-writing or journaling. It’s detective work to identify the bad feeling thoughts.
Take a piece of paper and fold it in half to make 2 columns. In the left column make a list of the stressful thoughts that have been going through your mind. What are the thoughts that are scaring you? Write them down. The writing part is important. Doing this in your mind is not likely to be as effective.
Something to understand about thoughts is that you don’t have to stop thinking them to get the benefits of knowing how to relieve anxiety and stress. In fact, it’s almost impossible to stop thinking scary thoughts! But you can learn a new way to respond to your thoughts, which is more than enough to feel a lot better.
Step 2 Notice How These thoughts make you feel.
Read through the thoughts you wrote down and as you do, notice what happens in your body. Do you feel tension, contraction, heaviness, or anxiety? Scan your body and then just below where you wrote the thoughts write the sensations that you feel in your body when you read them.
Step 3 Write down the opposite thoughts.
In the column on the right side of your paper write the exact opposite of each thought you just wrote on the left. You don’t have to believe the opposite thought. All you have to do right is write it down.
So, for example, if you wrote….“Things will never go back to normal.” the opposite thought would be “Things will go back to normal.” Write that down. If you wrote “I will lose everything” or “I won’t have what I need.” then across from that write “I won’t lose everything. I will have what I need.”
Go through your list through by thought and write the exact opposite of each thought.
Step 4 What If….
Above the list of opposite thoughts on the right, write the words “What if….” Now read those words and then read through all of your opposite thoughts. You don’t have to believe them, just read them.
For example, “What if things will go back to normal. What if I don’t lose everything. What if I will have what I need.” As you read, notice how these thoughts make you feel? What sensations do you notice in your body now? You don’t have to believe the opposite thoughts, just consider “What if I was thinking this way, how would that feel?” Write down the sensations you notice.
When we experience change and uncertainty, we can’t know for sure what the outcome will be, but at a minimum we can acknowledge that there is more than one possible outcome.
Seeing that can give you a little space from the scary predictions behind your anxiety. Once you have a little space, it’s easier to turn your attention to other things that can help you feel even better, like appreciating the many blessings around you in every moment, looking for silver linings, or focusing on love.
I have practiced this tool myself many times over the past week, and I’m grateful to know how to relieve anxiety and stress. But no matter how much practice I have leading my mind, my lizard brain still makes catastrophic predictions in the face of the unknown. But because I’ve had lots of practice, I know that no matter how scary my thoughts are, love, safety and connection are always just a few thoughts away.
They are for you too.
Everything is going to be ok.