"Have no fear of the future. Let us go forward into its mysteries, tear away the veils which hide it from our eyes, and move onwards with confidence and courage." — Winston Churchill
I grew up always hearing my dad say, “Fear & faith occupy the same space in your life; therefore, they cannot co-exist. You must pick one.”
Something I don’t talk about much is that I really struggle with anxiety, and I always have. Not the “I’m a human so I get anxious sometimes” kind, but the kind that can be absolutely crippling if left to it’s own devices.
As a child, I used to lie awake at night & worry about “bad things happening.” I’ve been the girl who locks herself in the school bathroom & cries her eyes out, not knowing I was having an anxiety attack. My story includes days that I literally stayed in bed all day because I felt paralyzed by that pit in my stomach & the lump in my throat. Anxiety is part of who I am, and it always has been.
I texted my parents last week in a ball of tears because my anxiety had reached a peak & I was terrified. My dad, ever the wise but blunt communicator said, "Lauren, there is no "yeah, but..." when it comes to choosing faith over fear. You either choose to have faith or you choose to live in fear."
There are million different things we can fear and a million different ways to experience them. Some people experience good old, unadulterated fear, while it may look much more similar to anxiety for others. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, I see you.
Friend, I see your anxiety.
I see your fear.
I see your restlessness.
I see your struggle.
They are real & they are valid.
Now, let me clarify one thing: I recognize I am speaking from a position of extreme privilege, so my fears and anxieties may look different than yours. That reality is not lost upon me; please don’t think I am blind to it.
That being said, I believe choosing faith over fear is something that transcends situational circumstances. I believe we each wake up with the opportunity to choose to keep going, in spite of our fears, whatever that may look like for each of us. When we choose to stop letting our fear dominate our lives, we are not saying the fear does not exist but rather, that it does not have the power to dictate our minds, our lives, or our choices. And I’m here to tell you, from first-hand experience, that it does NOT have to dominate your life. For the most part, we are in control over what & whom we give power to.
Easier said than done though, right?
I wanted to share with you some of my favorite anxiety-reducing tactics. I’ve used these myself & taught dozens of kiddos to utilize these, so I know they work. Coping skills are not a one-size-fits-all thing, so find which one(s) best suit your life and personality and practice them when you are feeling anxious. It's likely you won't be very good at them at first. That's alright! Keep practicing until you are.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite time and budget friendly anxiety management skills:
•Spend 3-5 minutes & taking deep breaths. 4 counts in, hold for 4, 4 counts out. Your brain needs oxygen to work properly.
•Take a moment to ground yourself: name as many things you can experience with your 5 senses as possible. What do you feel with your fingers, feet, and hands? What do you hear? What can you smell? What do you see? What are you tasting? This technique grounds you back into reality and pulls you out of your own head.
•Reduce your sensory stimuli. What do I mean by that? Are you trying to listen to music while your kids are playing and the lawn mower is running and you're doing housework and your baby is screaming? Yeah, that's altogether too much for you brain to handle - get rid of as many of those as you can. Turn the music off for now, close the window to block out the lawn mower, and put the dishes down until nap time. I promise, they will still be there in a couple hours.
•Get outside for 10-20 minutes. If you live in the PNW like me, that's not always feasible, BUT the weather has been beautiful lately. And it's harder with kiddos, for sure. Put the kids on their bikes, the baby in the stroller, and just walk around the block a couple times. You'll be amazed at how much it helps.
•Put down the caffeine. I know. It's borderline blasphemous to even suggest it. But there's no denying that consuming caffeine on bad anxiety days only makes managing it a million times more difficult.
•Count to 10 slowly. Push out any thoughts other than the numbers you are saying out loud. This will give your brain just enough time to realize it was losing control and allow you to get a grip on reality again.
•Interrupt your anxious thoughts. If you find yourself in a cycle of "what ifs" and worst case scenarios (my family calls this "awfulizing"), don't allow those thoughts to run unchecked. Interrupt them with statements like, "I have gotten through hard times before, I can do it this time too," or, "This is my anxiety/fear talking: the truth is (insert legitimate, likely more positive reality)." If you need to, say it out loud.
• Set a timer for 10 minutes and tidy one space in your house. Like it or not, clutter is a direct cause of anxiety. You can say it doesn't bother you all you want, but it's been studied and proven to heighten anxiety levels. Another harsh truth: you have 10 minutes to do those dishes you've been putting off. Don't find the time when it comes to you, MAKE the time. Put on some cartoons for your kiddos if you have to (a little extra screen time doesn't make you a bad mom, I promise). Take just 10 minutes and tidy one small space. Is your dining room table driving you insane? How about the bathroom counter? Does the dishwasher need unloaded? Do this once or twice a day. I guarantee you'll feel better.
•Take 10 minutes to sit in quiet and meditate, pray, read a book, or crack open your Bible. Whatever you believe in, it's been shown that religious practices can have great benefits for people's mental health. So whether you believe in God, Allah, Buddah, atheism, or meditative practices, take 10 minutes of quiet either right when you get up or just before going to bed to be still and engage with that. It's 10 minutes. No excuses.
•Be kind to yourself. There is nothing that makes anxiety worse faster than heaping hot coals of burning shame onto your own head. Write affirmations on sticky notes and put them on your mirror. Take a minute to name 5 things you love about yourself. Actively and out loud tell yourself that you are doing the best you can and it's okay to have hard days.
Y'all. This is a strange and scary time we are living in. We are all feeling the weight of this to some degree, in some way. We may not have much control over our circumstances, but we do have control over how we react to them. We do have the power to choose faith - whatever that looks like for you - over fear. No matter what circumstances you may be facing this week, whether that's homeschooling or loss of a job or trying to manage mental health in the midst of lock down, you do not have to be a slave to your fears and anxieties.
Remind yourself of how brave, strong, and capable you are.
Pick out a few coping skills and work to practice them.
Face each day knowing that you can choose not to let fear have a grip on your life.
And remember, you can do this.
You are smart.
You are strong.
You are worthy.
You are loved.
COVID-19 may be one tough SOB, but you are tougher.
Let's show this virus who's boss. Hint: it's you ;)