How to Keep Your Head on Straight.

When Everything Looks Scary as F*ck!
Jenn Reddy

Life is seeming to be pretty anxiety fueled these days. I don’t know of any quadrants in the world right now operating under the status quo. Emotions are high, fear is rampant, and my usually rainbow filled Facebook wall is currently filled with enough bleak stories to cause a panic attack.

In life we all have our skill sets. One of mine happens to be studying and teaching how to keep your head on straight when tough things are happening. I’ll be listing them out below. Most of these you know, some may be new. They all have some serious research backing that they work IF YOU DO THEM. Sadly, reading all this won’t be enough. Doing them once, won’t be enough. In a time when the hits keep coming and the world looks really unsteady, making them a daily practice is solid mental health advice.

My family had a sit down several months ago – to acknowledge that we’re living in stressful times. That the adults and kids are concerned about a lot of things. That we’re all reading and hearing scary stories. That serious boredom and cabin fever may occur. That big feelings will happen, and anxiety makes us all want to lash out and/or shut down. And that it’s ok.

We reminded each other that it’s ok to be scared and anxious. It’s ok to be easily irritated. It’s ok to be sad and mad. It’s ok to be happy for some downtime one minute and super anxious about what that means the next. What’s not ok is taking it out on each other.

All of us, big and small, can work on taking responsibility for our thoughts, our actions and our words. Big feelings don’t undo that responsibility. And taking care of ourselves and each other, is of great importance now.

So, we talked about what’s ok and not ok with behavior. We created safe spaces and routines for adults and kiddos when downtime is needed. We talked about giving each other softness when someone is struggling, and asking for what we need when we’re struggling. We acknowledged that things may feel hard, and when they do, we’ll feel our feelings. However, we won’t indulge in despair or catastrophic thinking.

We made a poster and it’s hung on the front door where you can’t miss it. It lists individual things that help us in hard times, and daily practices that help everyone in hard times. This will enable us to remember what we can do when we feel ourselves starting to slide into panic/lack/anger/fear and help us remind each other what helps the other with love and compassion.

Sometimes making a mandatory mental health group activity is be the way to start the day. Sometimes we’ll do one after every lunch or before bed. Sometimes we all fly solo. Figuring out what I and this house of humans and pets need from day to day is an ever changing list. But if there’s anything my decades of research and experience has taught me is that we will need some strategies in our back pockets to pull from.
So, here’s my best suggestions on keeping it sane when things are looking crazy. None of these will undo the world around you. They will help you keep your sanity in the days to come.

1) Smile for one minute.
Fake it. It doesn’t have to be real. Your body can’t tell the difference and it will trigger the happy hormones to creep into your brain. Then, once your brain has happy hormones flowing through it, take a deep breath and move forward. You won’t suddenly feel elated. You will feel lighter – and that makes a huge difference in whether you respond or react.

2) Move your body.
Take a walk down quiet streets, have a dance party in your living room, go for a hike, jump up and down, do yoga, practice screaming into the abyss, whatever works for you. Obviously, don’t go to crowded places to do this (I think they’re all closed anyway). Help your partners/kids/parents do this too. You can all walk/dance/yoga together. If you have kiddos at home, the internet is FILLED with great kid movement videos (look up brain break movement videos or kids dance videos for ideas. Also, kids yoga is a thing and it’s awesome).

3) Meditate/Pray/Journal
Whatever your version of communing with the divine/your higher self/your inner being is, do it. Do it a bunch. Then do it some more. All have shown to lower stress, lead to clearer thinking, and help us keep perspective of how we fit into the cosmos.
If this is new for you, again, the internet is filled with ideas, videos, how to’s, guided meditations, etc. There is years worth of free content at your fingertips.

4) 4 times a day, find something to appreciate.
This can be super formal with a special notebook or a loose thing that you do with meals or timers. In my house, we randomly yell out that its appreciation time and everyone  has to come up with 3 things they appreciate in that moment. Sometimes the answers are profound, sometimes they’re hysterical – they always remind us that no matter what is going on there is something to appreciate.

5) Put your shields up
This is emotional/energetic not physical. If you know today you have to do XYZ, prepare for it ahead of time. Take a deep breath, remind yourself to be kind, practice how you’ll respond in tough conversations before they happen, feel compassion for all others you’ll experience, remind yourself of your exit strategy should you need one, and don’t push yourself farther then you can go. Remind yourself that you’re a being made of love and stardust and the hopes and dreams of your ancestors. You are powerful and capable. You don’t need to tap into the anxiety on the planet if you take care of yourself.

6) Really put some thought in how you want to feel and what you want to accomplish each day.
Then, do everything in your power to feel that way and accomplish those things. Use your focus. If laundry and yard work is today’s list and you want to feel peaceful while you do it, then make that happen. You can support yourself in this by putting on music or starting early. If you have to go to work and engage in the world, you may want to keep your calm and wash your hands a lot. Carry your favorite soap with you and set your phone to remind you to take deep breaths.  Whatever works for you. If you don’t start the day with knowing what you want, you can’t support yourself in that creation as the day unfolds. It is absolutely amazing to me how much a simple heart felt intention and the desire to bring it to life can alter the course of our days.

7) Let go and let God/Turn it over to the Universe/Serenity and Acceptance
Whatever your version of this is. Life is always bigger than us. Our interpretation and response is our only control. Our power is in knowing this. Usually we get to live in an illusion that makes us feel more in control then we are, but right now that’s all upside down. Things bigger than us, that we have no control over, are everywhere right now. Fighting against it leads to suffering, anger, depression, and helplessness. Our power is in letting go of what we can’t control (pretty much everything not us) and control what we can (us!).

8) Check your stories – The ones you tell and the ones you ingest
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between your sane, level-headed truth and your anxious worried thoughts. If you find yourself knee deep in a conversation or internal dialogue that’s feeling more and more horrible, change the subject, leave the room, take a break, do what you gotta do! Protect your poor tired brain. It’s doing the best it can to keep up, not feeding it junk food (this includes bad feeling memories, certain movies and tv shows, pessimistic people, etc.) will greatly improve the processing power it has AND your feeling of well-being.

9) Sleep and drink water for crissakes!
Exhaustion and dehydration are the leading causes of EVERYTHING as far as I can tell. I’m only part joking. Solid rest and lots of water never hurt and pretty much always help. From your immune system to your mood, these two things are possibly the biggest influencers. So, take care of yourself. Be the adult and do the basics!

10) And finally, COMPASSION, COMPASSION, COMPASSION
Everyone (EVERYONE!) is some level of stressed, scared, triggered, overwhelmed, and doing the best they can. Sometimes you’ll run into someone acting out. Sometimes that’ll be you. Resentment, shame, anger or escalation won’t help. YOU will feel better if you’re heart centered and kind to all (including yourself!). We don’t need perfection from each other, we do need kindness and understanding.

Barbara Haynes

Barbara Haynes
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