It’s been just over a year now since the pandemic took root in Canada, and it’s been a pretty tumultuous time for many. We’ve been faced with levels of uncertainty that we’re not accustomed to facing on a daily basis, we’ve had to leave behind our typical ways of moving through the world and interacting with those in our lives, and we’ve had to forge a new path into the unknown.
A lot of people have reached out and told us that they’ve been dealing with higher than usual levels of stress and anxiety lately. When we really stop to think about everything we’ve been faced with, and everything that has been asked of us this past year, it’s not in the least bit surprising that people are struggling with anxiety.
If stress or anxiety is something you have been struggling with, perhaps more than usual, know that you are not alone, that it is okay, and that there are things you can do to manage it.
Focus on your breath
When is the last time you really paid attention to the quality of your breath? Noticed where the breath is filling your body, the speed with which you are drawing in each new breath, how it feels to breathe into your body?
Believe it or not, your breath is an incredibly powerful tool for managing stress and anxiety!
When we are stressed or feeling anxious, we tend to take short, shallow breaths that only fill our chest. This breathing pattern actually sends signals to our brains that we need to be on alert – that we are in danger, that we should be prepared for fight or flight. It becomes a dangerous cycle – we feel stress so our breathing becomes shallow, which in turn signals to our brains that there is something for us to be worried about, and this feeling of stress of anxiety cranks up a notch within us.
If you are able to notice this pattern, and consciously change how you are breathing, you are able to stop this anxiety producing cycle, and instead send signals to your brain that you are safe, that you can relax and let your guard down. We can do this by taking long, slow deep breaths. Drawing the breath all the way down into our bellies, allowing our stomachs to expand, and then releasing the breath slowly. These deep breaths tell our bodies that we are safe, that we are no longer being chased by that proverbial sabre tooth tiger.
If you’re able to, get outside for some fresh air! Changing up your environment can be a good way to break out of anxious thought patterns.
Go for a short walk and allow yourself to become completely immersed in the activity. Walk mindfully - being aware of each step, the ground under your feet, the plants around you. Feel the sun on your skin, or the brush of wind against your face. See if you can hear any birds, any insects buzzing around. Bringing your attention from the thoughts racing through your mind and into your physical body and the world around you can be a useful tool in managing anxiety.
While you’re outside, you can practice a quick grounding technique to come more fully into your body and into the present moment. I’ll share with you one of our favourite grounding visualizations to try out for yourself!
Find a quiet space where you can comfortably and safely close your eyes for a couple of minutes. Stand with your feet flat on the ground. Imagine roots growing out from the soles of your feet – they can look any way you like, they are after all your roots. Visualize those roots sinking into the ground beneath you, slowly but surely making their way down through all of the layers of the earth. Moving past the soil, and rocks, through the bedrock, through the mantle, all the way down to the core of the earth.
Imagine your roots wrapping themselves around the core of the earth, firmly anchoring you. Once you feel connected, and anchored to the earth, visualize energy flowing through your roots back to you. This energy is grounding and calming. Feel it entering the soles of your feet and slowly working its way up through your entire body. You are now grounded and connected to the earth.
If you feel called to, you can release any negative or anxious thoughts or feelings now. Imagine them draining from your body, down through your roots, and into the earth to be transformed. This energy comes back to you in a new form, replenishing you.
Write it all out
Sometimes it can be incredibly helpful to write out all of your thoughts, worries, and concerns on paper. It can feel a little counter-intuitive, since the last thing you really want to do when you’re feeling anxious is to dive even deeper into it. But, this can actually be a great tool for moving through these feelings.
Anxiety tends to keep us trapped in our minds, with racing thoughts and ruminations that never seem to end. Journaling allows us to take these things racing around in our minds and put them onto paper. The process of journaling about your stress and anxiety can offer really powerful insights into what’s going on for you. You might notice a trend, a particular thought pattern, or a root cause of your anxiety. These insights can help to lessen the intensity of the anxiety, and give you an idea of where you might want to focus some attention.
Sometimes just the act of writing all of these things down and getting them out of your mind can be a huge release. Your brain is no longer solely responsible for bearing the burden of these stressors - you’ve given them a voice, you’ve acknowledged them, and put them on paper. Sometimes that is all we need to do for our stressors and anxiety to feel less overwhelming and daunting.
Get your zen on!
Have you tried meditation?! I bet you expected this to be our very first tip for managing stress and anxiety, but I restrained myself and managed to save it for the end!
Meditation is an incredible tool for slowing down a busy mind, learning to become more present in the moment, and connect with our bodies. If meditation is new to you, or feels particularly daunting these days, be gentle with yourself and start off small.
Sitting down and setting the intention to meditate, even if it’s only for 2 minutes a day, is beneficial! Meditation is a muscle that you will strengthen over time.
If you’re brand new to meditation, check out our How to Meditate blog post for some tips on starting your practice! Looking for some guided meditations to explore? We’ve got a bunch you can check out on YouTube, and we’re also teachers on Insight Timer!
Want just one more?
Okay, I know I said we had 5 tools for managing stress, but there's one more that I just have to mention - gratitude!
When we intentionally focus on all of the things in our lives that we have to be grateful for, it begins to shift our perspective and the way we experience the world around us. Life isn't defined by the things that happen, it is defined by our perception and experience of them. By leaning into gratitude you can actually begin to reprogram your brain - how cool is that?! Instead of your brain quickly picking up on the things that heighten your stress levels, it will begin to look at the world with an eye for gratitude. Searching for and noticing all of the big and small things in everyday life we tend to overlook.
Is gratitude something you're ready to dive into? We'd love to be your guides while you embark on this journey! Check out our Gratitude Journal, and be sure to share your experiences with us!
Add these tools to your self care kit
Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips for managing stress and anxiety helpful. The most important tip we can possibly give you is to be kind and compassionate with yourself! Give some of these things a try and see what works for you. At the very least, you’ve got a few extra tools in your toolkit now for working through these feelings when they arise.
If you are really struggling with stress or anxiety right now, please do reach out to a counsellor or therapist in your area. They’ll be able to chat with you about what’s going on in your life, the anxiety you’re dealing with, and be able to offer you customized advice and tools. Sometimes having that trusted person you can talk openly with makes all the difference in the world!