In this blog, I’ll discuss a few methods to help cope with anxiety symptoms that may get their own blog a little later, but can be helpful for you right now. I've already discussed how to use deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, mindfulness meditation, and changing your perspective to help reduce anxiety or stress, but those aren’t the only tools available. Some other ideas that can be used together or in conjunction with a previously discussed strategy are: exercise, gratitude journal, social connection, and valued living. Moms especially can feel overwhelmed with stress and anxiety when juggling so many tasks. You can pick and choose what fits best with your personality and schedule, use what works for you, and forget about what doesn't!
This is one of those things that our doctors tell us all the time. We all know that we should be exercising more, but it ends up being difficult to either start or maintain the habit. When we do though, it ends up being beneficial in a huge way both physically and mentally. Of course our medical doctors are typically referring to the health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, and overall improved heart health, but we also know that exercise releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain. When we increase the levels of these chemicals, it makes it easier for us to view stressors as temporary, or to recognize that we do have the resources to overcome the obstacle we are facing. And the good news is you don’t need to run a marathon for these benefits. Even just adding in 15-20 minutes of walking to your daily routine can reduce your perceived stress, especially if you use the walking time for some mindfulness (that’s one of my favorite techniques). Walking around the neighborhood I just notice whatever I can. I don’t use the time to think of my grocery list, or what my kids are doing, but rather I focus on noticing the flowers, bushes, trees, cracks in the pavement etc.
Some tips to make it easier to add exercise into your day:
- Set yourself up for success - have whatever you need prepared beforehand. Have the clothes you will wear laid out. Fill your water bottle then night before. The more steps you can prepare ahead of time, the fewer opportunities you'll have to say "no."
- Schedule it - actually put it into your calendar with a notification. Scheduling time to take care of your physical and mental health is just as important as making time for family and friends.
- Don’t rely on feeling motivated - even if you don’t feel like it, get moving.
- Start small - if you don’t feel motivated, it’s disheartening to think of a long exercise session. Instead, tell yourself you’ll just go for 5 minutes and you can re-evaluate then. More often than not, once I’m started I can keep myself going.
- Don’t expect perfection - there are times I do stop at 5 minutes. That’s OK! Tomorrow is a new day and as long as you continue to follow your schedule, it won’t set you back to miss a day here or there.
- Share (AFTER you’ve completed your workout) - it can be motivating to share your achievements. However, it’s better not to tell people your plan beforehand, because our brain tricks us by feeling good when people praise us for the plan. Oddly, we're then less likely to actually start exercising because we already feel good! So share after you’ve accomplished something you are proud of, and only share with those who you know will give positive feedback.
Even in the midst of unbelievable trials, we all have things that we can be grateful for. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s easy to miss or forget those things and to focus on the pain instead. Just taking 5 minutes to write down (yes writing it is important) 3 things you were grateful for today can help to start changing your mindset. At first it can be really hard. You’re helping your brain remember how to notice the positive things. Keep at it and it will get easier, and you’ll have a notebook of good things to look at when you’re feeling down. A gratitude journal can be a very easy way to start changing your mind's pattern of negative thinking.
Talking to people you care about is underrated in its importance for mental health. Even if you aren’t talking about the stressors of life, just having that connection can help make the stressors feel more manageable. As noted in The Upside of Stress, one of our body’s stress responses is to make us seek out connection, to “tend and befriend.” For some people they just want to curl up into a ball and hide. Being able to counter that impulse and getting coffee with a friend, a relative, someone from church, or a coworker can help you to remember you are not alone.
By taking the time to identify the things that are important to you in life, it can be easier to prioritize your actions when feeling overwhelmed. Every day we make choices about how to spend our time and money. It’s not uncommon to have these choices dictated to us by circumstance, or social pressure (e.g., everybody else’s kid is in 3 sports so my kid must be too). I recently chatted with my friend about this as her 3 kids are getting to the age of organized sports and the challenge that puts on their value of quality family time. She feels pulled to choose between her kids not getting to play a sport in high school if they don’t have the constant training beforehand, and wanting time at home as a family to discuss school and life etc. While those decisions are never easy, it is so meaningful to intentionally choose to live in accordance with your values. At the end of the day you can look back and say you made progress on being the person you want to be. The thing about values is they always give you something to strive for and you have the opportunity to do a little better each and every day. Each day is a fresh start.
I hope those extra techniques are helpful. If you’d like to discuss further or learn more about how we could work together specifically on your challenges, please schedule a free 30 minute consultation or reach out by phone or e-mail.