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.