Sarah Romotsky, Director of Healthcare at Headspace, shares seven ways to manage anxious thoughts and navigate uncertainty
In the midst of the current public health crisis, people around the world are experiencing unprecedented stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Between social distancing, travel restrictions, 24/7 news alerts, and financial stressors, this shifting landscape is affecting everyone.
As the world collectively takes steps to safeguard the physical health and wellbeing of ourselves and loved ones, it’s also important to take care of our minds. A growing number of people are seeking ways to help themselves right now, with more of us working from home, practising a new form of social distancing that many of us aren’t used to, as well as general confusion.
So, this week, Headspace launched a free, specially-curated “weathering the storm” collection of meditation and mindfulness content to help you find some space and kindness for yourself, and those around you.
To coincide with this new collection, I want to share some proven techniques to help you manage anxious thoughts, build mental resilience, navigate through this uncertainty, and find some calm and compassion for yourself and those around you during this truly trying time.
7 ways to manage anxious thoughts
Navigating change and managing challenging thoughts and emotions
During this uncertainty, it’s normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed at times. Mindfulness is a proven method to help people better manage difficult emotions as they come up and lower anxiety and worry.
By becoming more aware of how anxiety or worry appears in our thoughts and bodily sensations, we can observe them and accept that these are normal and understandable experiences. Using our breath as an anchor, we can feel connected to the present moment versus worrying about the uncertain future.
Get a restful night of sleep
Sleep plays a huge part in maintaining a healthy immune system, mind, and body. Mindfulness can help you achieve a naturally healthy, restful sleep – especially when it can be impacted by heightened stress during the day.
A ‘good’ night’s sleep has a lot more to do with the quality than the quantity of it, and quality of rest has a lot to do with the quality of mind.
Make sure you’re not stimulating the mind late at night by doing last-minute chores, scrolling through social media and answering emails. Cut down screen time and ensure you’re truly disengaging from your day; this can be difficult to do when working from home, but Sleep by Headspace offers content designed to help you drift off and stay asleep. It’s a useful tool to help unwind and nod off.
Invest in you
While it’s normal to get caught up in the news cycle, it’s important to ensure you are taking time to prioritise your own wellbeing. Rather than simply reacting, take moments to pause, take a breath and check-in with yourself: this will help you to be intentional in every interaction and make better decisions from a place of clarity.
For many, practising self-care means taking the time to nurture their bodies as well as their minds. While we’re ‘stuck inside’, it’s easier to get into the swing of a sedentary lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean we should stop moving altogether: a daily stretching routine is a great way to stay fit, and incorporating mindfulness into exercise like running and walking help encourage calm and ground the mind and manage the connection between our body and thoughts.
Headspace also recently launched new Move Mode content, which offers workouts that are safe and easy to manage at home, allowing you the ability to keep moving, even when you begin to find it most difficult. While in the “weathering the storm” collection, there are two at-home workouts to help let go of any pent-up tension and step away from stress.
Be kind and compassionate
Practising self-compassion during this time is important. Be honest about how you’re truly feeling. No matter where you're working, it's important to make time periodically throughout the day to step away from your desk or daily tasks and take a break. It’s important to keep in mind that while we’re all in this together, each person has unique life circumstances that may cause more or less acute concern.
If you manage a team of staff, for example, here are different ways in which you can practice compassionate leadership.
Take time to check in with your team, and give them space to be open and honest about how they feel, both mentally and physically. Acknowledging how someone else is truly feeling empowers us to respond with kindness.
In times of stress, it’s easy to let frustrations get in the way of skilful communication. Being open, honest, and giving yourself the space to pause and respond in a skilful and kind way all contribute towards maintaining positive working – and personal – relationships, open channels of communication and give reassurance.
Try not to become overwhelmed by the noise
When a situation evolves so quickly, it can be tempting to follow updates obsessively and find yourself becoming swamped by the volume of news and information from outlets and social groups.
Meditation allows you to be aware of what’s going on around you without becoming overwhelmed by it. When you’re practising mindfulness techniques, you’re open to the seriousness of the situation and aware of ongoing developments, whilst not allowing yourself to become lost in it. When you’re open to suffering and difficulties, you’re also more open to other concepts like joy, love and kindness.
Let go of negative commentary
When we aren’t experiencing strong feelings of happiness or kindness, it’s very difficult to believe that they are always there. You may naturally have a restless mind or frequently feel frustrated, irritated, sad, critical and so on. We might mistakenly believe this to be who we are or the sum of the mind, forgetting that thoughts and feelings are simply on the surface.
The only way we can experience calm is to let go of that endless commentary which questions and doubts and obstructs the way to achieve happiness. When we let go of thought through meditation, we experience something more spacious, less judgemental, more empathetic.
For more advice and meditations, visit Headspace.com.
Did you know that you can now download the Happiful app? Bringing all our content into one place, the app allows you to access all issues of the magazine, and connects you to thousands of professionals across the UK.
If you need support or would like to speak to a professional about how you’re feeling, online therapy is an option that many professionals are offering. Counselling Directory currently lists over 10,000 online and telephone therapists, while Life Coach Directory has more than 1,000 coaches offering support online.
This is a difficult time, but remember to look after yourself - physically and mentally. Talk to each other and if you feel you need more information, please choose reputable sources, such as the NHS and Government websites.