Updated: May 13, 2020
Every year, April is stress awareness month and in 2020 we’re all faced with added stressful feelings due to the virus. It may be because of financial worries, having to home school the children, partner working/being at home 24/7, working from home yourself and being in isolation. We have all this to contend with and then there’s the real risk that our loved ones may become ill, or worse. So how can we manage this situation and not let our anxiety spiral out of control?
Breathe! Yes, we do it without even thinking, but perhaps we should think about our breathing. To relax our body and mind, deep breaths help us to slow down, while also introducing full lungs of oxygen which, via the blood stream, is going to nourish every cell in our body. Be mindful of the experience of breathing, feel the temperature of the air as it is slowly drawn through the nostrils into the lungs and again as it’s slowly exhaled, eliminating carbon dioxide. Are you able to breathe evenly with both nostrils or is there some congestion? Feel your ribcage and stomach expand as you breathe in and relax as you breathe out. You can hone in on your breathing at any time. Start your day with being mindful of your breathing before you even get out of bed, during the day when you feel your anxiety levels are rising and/or before you go to sleep to relax you.
Both Yoga and Tai Chi emphasise the importance of breathing and there are lots of classes you can follow free of charge, on the internet if you want to take it further.
So, now you’re feeling calmer, let’s take a look at anxiety and what can be done about it. Much as we like to be in control, sometimes things happen that we can’t control and, if that’s the case, why are we spending time on it? Let’s put energy and effort into the things we can control. “Easy for you to say” I hear, but believe me, I’ve spent a lot of energy worrying about things out of my control - the “what if’s”, and it’s got me nowhere.
You’re probably familiar with the advice to keep, where possible, to a daily routine of waking, eating and sleeping, these are things you have control over. You can also control how much exposure you have to current affairs, daytime TV or how you’re going to exercise. There are lots of things you can control and lots of strategies to help you.
Something I have found to be helpful is to step into the shower and intend (yes, just think to yourself or say out loud if that feels better for you) that the water cascading over you is washing all negativity from you and disappearing down the drain. Leaving you feeling positive to go about your day. You could sprinkle a few drops of essential oils onto the shower tray if you have some, and enjoy the invigorating aroma. Don’t forget to apply your favourite body lotion after you’re dry, the action of massaging it in, helps to make you feel nurtured and uplifted.
If you’ve managed to get up, showered and dressed (in some bright cheerful clothes) without the children screaming for breakfast or someone needing to urgently use the bathroom, you’ve made a great start to your day. If it’s not been quite that relaxing – don’t forget your deep breathing!
Plan meals, that way you won’t stand in front of the fridge waiting for something to jump out and inspire you. It’s something else you’ve made a decision over and something you can look forward to eating later. Try to eat healthily, many foods help to elevate your mood. Try searching on the internet for “foods to make me happy”. You may not be able to get your usual brand or your favourite food just now, but see this as an opportunity to try something different. Look up a new recipe, get the children involved and let them help you to prepare it. There’s a lot of learning to be done in the kitchen and they’re more likely to eat something they’ve helped to create.
Exercise – motivation can be lacking if you’re feeling anxious but research shows that physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy. Again, you’re in control of which exercise activity you choose to do. Gentle exercise might be walking, yoga, Tai Chi, even housework is exercise, depending on how vigorously you do it. Let the children help here too, have a race to see who can change a pillowcase the fastest or when changing the duvet cover, place a soft toy on the top, hold the corners and shake! See if you can keep it on – like the parachute games they play at school. If you’ve got everyone at home, maybe the solitude of a jog round the block is just what you need. Mix it up and choose a different activity each day. The internet is full of activities we can follow.
On the subject of the internet, let’s take a moment to think about how fortunate we are to have this facility. We’re able to order whatever we want and have it delivered to our door, we can email our friends and family and they’ll receive our message in an instant. Video calls, now that’s something we’re all learning about. How amazing is it to be able to see and speak to our loved ones even though they may be many miles away? Some people are working from home, so still able to earn a wage, many have adapted their work so that they can reach out to their clients when otherwise they would be unable to help them. How lucky are we that we’re in lockdown at such a technologically advanced time?
Music can be relaxing and calming or invigorating and energising, again there’s a huge amount available on the internet covering every genre. So, whatever your preference, spend time with music - sing, play an instrument, even if it’s a drum made from a box and a wooden spoon or a shaker made from a plastic bottle with some rice in it. This is for adults as well as children. Music can change your mood and by moving your body to the rhythm, you’re exercising too. Music can also bring back memories, be that from childhood with nursery rhymes or a fabulous concert that you went to.
Throughout your day, find an opportunity to laugh, if you’re at home on your own, stand in front of the mirror and laugh at yourself, it may feel a bit weird at first but I bet you end up really laughing, it’s infectious. Look on the internet for Phil and Holly Laughter Yoga – yes it really is a thing. There’s lots of funny animal videos on the internet and I’m sure every parent has a funny story to tell about how their children made them laugh.
Mindfulness is being in the present, like with the breathing we did earlier. “It’s deliberately paying attention to things we normally wouldn’t even notice, and becoming aware of our present moment experience as it arises, non-judgmentally, and with kindness and compassion.” This quote is taken from The Little Pocket Book of Mindfulness by Anna Black, a useful book for anyone wanting an introduction to mindfulness and meditation with lots of exercises to try. Being in the garden can be a mindful activity, just sit quietly and take notice of the sounds that you can hear. Can you feel the sun or the wind on your skin? What can you smell? What can you notice about the seat that you’re sitting on? Is it soft and comfortable or firm? Mindful eating can help you to enjoy your food more. Think about where you’re eating, at the table, on the sofa in front of the TV? Are you relaxed and eating slowly or are you rushing because you’ve got things to do after? How does your food look? Is it colourful or dull? Can you smell it? Is there a predominant aroma that you can pick out? What does your food taste like? Sweet, salty, spicy or bland? What’s the texture like? Crunchy or soft? Smooth or lumpy? Is it hot or cold? If you’re trying a new recipe this is a good way of really thinking about your meal, so that you can decide if it’s something that you’ll try again. You can be mindful of every activity you do, just pause and think about it, ask yourself questions.
Many people find the benefits of meditation include a feeling of peace, reduced anxiety and physical benefits. This is something that I’ve recently explored and I’m finding, the more I do it, the better I’m getting at it. Since the lockdown began and I’ve less pressure on my time, I’ve followed some morning guided meditations online. There are lots of therapists offering free meditations at the moment so I suggest you listen along and find someone who has a soothing voice which you’ll be able to feel relaxed with. You don’t have to sit cross legged on the floor if this is isn’t comfortable for you. Find a straight-backed chair that allows you to sit with your feet flat on the floor, so that you’re grounded. If you’re like me, and a bit short in the leg department, place a cushion, book or some such under your feet, so that you can get the height just right and feel comfortable. You can rest your hands palms up on your legs or cup them in your lap. Allow the person guiding the meditation to talk you through the process, they’ve probably got a specific topic that they’re focusing on for that day. Then as you feel more confident you may want to meditate on your own. You can burn a candle, some incense or diffuse some essential oils if this will help you to relax. A lot of people find that “mind chatter” intrudes as they meditate so you can try focusing on your breathing, which as we’ve already found, can be calming. Start with just a few minutes of mediation and gradually build it up as you become more practised. By meditating in the morning, you’re starting your day in a positive frame of mind.
An affirmation is a statement intended to provide encouragement, emotional support, or motivation. Well, that sounds like just what we need at the moment. How about “I wake each day rested and full of energy”? “I prioritise my wellbeing”? Or “I am happy, healthy and radiant” Affirmations can help us to change our thoughts, feelings and ability to cope with challenging times. If we believe in positive affirmations and remind ourselves of them regularly during the day by writing them out and reading them often, then it will help to reinforce the positive thoughts and feelings that you’re trying to build. In his book The Master Key System, Charles Haanel claims that there’s an affirmation that incorporates every single thing any human being can want – “I am whole, perfect, strong, powerful, loving harmonious and happy“. So that’s one to think about.
Pamper time – yes, you’re worth it! Some people will be missing their regular trip to the hairdresser, nail bar, having a facial or massage, which means we’re also missing that positive touch and interaction with others. Well, there’s nothing to stop you giving yourself some “Me time”. You can book yourself a nice long bath, at a time when you’ll not be disturbed, and follow it with a home facial and self-massage of your feet and/or hands. Check beforehand that you’ve got all the toiletries that you need and make a date with yourself. It’ll not feel quite the same as your usual visit but it’ll be better than nothing and if you’ve got a partner at home, get them to massage your feet or even your back. The power of positive, physical touch is so important to our wellbeing. A bath and gentle massage is something that you can do for your children too, just before bedtime to help them to relax and sleep well. It’s not only adults that are feeling stressed at this time. Children can be frightened to see adults struggling to manage the situation, so we need to be aware of their anxieties too.
As an Aromatherapist, I use essential oils extensively to support my health and wellbeing. There’s a huge range of essential oils that can support every system in the body including emotional issues. If you have some oils at home, take them out and one by one, gently inhale their aroma. You’ll know if a particular oil suits you today, it may be a different oil tomorrow, which is why choosing essential oils is such a personal thing. If you’re looking for an essential oil to help you feel calm and relaxed then Lavender, Chamomile, Frankincense, Petitgrain, Neroli and Basil are just a few. Citrus oils (Lemon, Lime, Orange and Bergamot) are very uplifting. If you’re finding that you’ve not got the motivation to focus on what you need to achieve in the day, try Rosemary, Peppermint, Grapefruit or Ginger. As mentioned earlier, add a couple of drops of oil to the shower base before showering to start your day well. Diffuse in a room, by adding three or four drops of essential oil to your electric diffuser. If you haven’t got a diffuser, drip a few drops onto a cotton wool ball and place on a radiator or onto a tissue to keep in your pocket and take out when needed. You can even gently inhale, direct from the bottle. Other ways to use essential oils is to add them to creams, lotions, in a rollerball or inhaler, as a room spray, the list goes on. Please make sure that the essential oils that you buy come from a reputable source. It may seem like a bargain to buy cheap oils from the internet but they may not be the best quality, could’ve been diluted or may even be synthetic. If you’re pregnant or have a young baby in your house, please chat to a qualified Aromatherapist to make sure that the essential oils you have, are being used in a safe way. I’d be more than happy to answer any of your queries. Keep all oils away from children and pets and preferably out of direct sunlight, somewhere cool.
There are many complimentary therapies that can help with stress and anxiety including Reiki, Reflexology, Massage in various forms, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and Counselling to name a few. At this moment, not all are available face to face, but many are offering online services. If you speak to a therapist and share with them your concerns they will, if not able to help you themselves, know a colleague within their therapy circle that would be right for you. All you need to do is ask. There are also many support groups that you can contact by making a search online.
You should be proud of yourself; you’ve made it through the day and that’s key, take everything one step at a time.