November was a last gasp effort to do and see everything we can before the cold forces us inside. Most Sundays my husband and I have a routine. First, we find a breakfast joint. Then, if the weather is agreeable, we walk.
I’ve always enjoyed our routine
After our walk, I grab my list and head to Whole Foods while he picks up Target necessities. This practice of going to the same stores has helped my anxiety. I know store protocols and layouts.
Last weekend we changed it up. After coffee and a walk, we headed to a different grocery store where I could purchase a few sugar pumpkins for pies. The minute I heard the swish of the automatic doors, I felt discombobulated. I couldn’t find anything. It was crowded, and the layout wasn’t familiar.
By the time I got to the dairy section, I was short of breath and in full panic mode. As the shelves of butter and yogurt swirled, I was moments away from crawling under my cart right there in front of the 2% milk.
We have all been on edge for months
These are not normal times. Many of us have been on the precipice of a cliff for months. An October 2020 American Psychological Association (APA) Harris Poll found,
Nearly 8 in10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 3 in 5 (60%) say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them.American Psychological Association (APA) Harris Poll
How do we gain control of the uncontrollable, especially as we approach the colder months and the holidays?
Expert advice on getting through this winter
1. Connect with your people
Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, a Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis psychiatry professor says, “As we continue to stay home as much as possible and remain physically distant from one another, many people rely on social media to stay connected, but much of what is on social media is anxiety provoking.
There’s also misinformation on social media, and that is problematic, too.” We need “our people,” those individuals who will listen to our stories, encourage our journeys, and give suggestions on how to navigate these crazy times. Reach out to them, but remember, social media doesn’t always present the whole truth.
If it fills you with unwanted anxiety, step away. It may be better to text, call, video chat, or even implement in- person social distanced get-togethers.
2. Let go of self-imposed expectations
Holidays offer their own set of expectations and stress, but the pandemic and the rising numbers have presented us with a whole new level of anxiety. Aly Swengel, a licensed massage therapist, a 500 E-RYT, and the director of Decatur Wellness Collective, says, “Anxiety comes from self-imposed expectations.
Tell yourself it is okay to enjoy being at home. It’s okay to have these feelings.” Make new holiday traditions, even if it is only for this year. Keep that elf in a box. Put your tree up in November. Pass on large family gatherings.
3. Consider your choices
Know your anxiety triggers and make smart choices. Have someone watch your kids so you can go to the grocery store alone. Order delivery service if the store is a trigger.
If triggers can’t be avoided, practice breathing techniques. One is box or square breathing used by Navy SEALs, healthcare workers, and first responders. Leah Brock, LMSW, writes in Michigan Health,
Square breathing helps regulate the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our bodies, which can often be out of balance when anxiety is at play.Michigan Health
4. Acknowledge our collective grief
Mourn the lost celebrations. Grieve the deaths. Johanna Burke, a mental health advocate, says, “Trauma manifests itself physically in our bodies. We need to learn to sit with the discomfort, but also keep practicing moving forward.”
Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author, and professor-in-residence at Kent State University, has a morning ritual since the pandemic began:
Daily rituals help us reconnect with ourselves and remind us of life’s rhythms.
5. Keep moving
As the winter months approach, we head indoors, but there are still ways to move. There are hundreds of free online workout possibilities from HIIT to yoga.
Also, if possible, bundle up and get outside. Nature is always the best medicine. Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, writes
In Japan, we practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.Time
6. Be gentle with yourself
Aly Swengel says, “We’ve been given this time to self-reflect and rest. Take it.” Also, Swengel doesn’t want to diminish the seriousness of clinical anxiety. Seek professional help if it needed. Most therapists offer online sessions if going into an office is too overwhelming. Consult the APA Psychologist Locator to begin your search for a therapist.
Back in the dairy section, once I acknowledged panic I activated my box breathing. My breath invited in the anxiety and then saw it out the door. “Anxiety,” Swengel stated, “is the nervous system trying to protect you. Think of it as your body’s intuition. Listen to it.”
When anxiety heightens, ask yourself, ‘What is my body telling me?’ Then down regulate. Decide on things you can do to tend to it. To combat winter pandemic anxiety, along with puzzles and Netflix, we can connect with those people who ignite our inner joy. Every time my son ends a call with “I love you, Mom,” my heart sings.
“You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.” ~Wayne Dyer
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