I am not a therapist or a doctor, but on today’s show I want to share with you several techniques that I learned from my new therapist that have been very helpful to me, and I hope they will help some of you as well. I also want to help dispel the stigma that comes with mental health issues. Yes, I needed therapy. Yes, I’ve been experiencing more anxiety than usual. So, I sought out help. And that is OK for all of us.
A few months ago, I started to realize that all of the things I used to do to turn off my brain from worrying about things were no longer working. I also realized I was getting really angry at the world at times. It all came to a head one night when I was worried about a leak in our basement. The spinning thoughts in my head would not stop, and I tried to explain my anxiety to my husband. He suggested I reach out a therapist acquaintance we know to ask for therapist recommendations.
The therapist I knew sent me two names. I Googled them and emailed one of them. In our first appointment, I felt like my new therapist was a good fit right away, if only because I was comfortable talking to her through video chat. That was a good start. I explained to her how I was feeling, and because I am a “let’s fix this” person, I told her that I needed tools to use when I started feeling like that, techniques I could use to calm my mind. She gave me several that have been quite helpful, both before I start feeling anxious and when I’m in that anxiety-ridden moment.
Therapy was also beneficial because it meant someone objective was validating my feelings. She validated that I am going through a loss—a loss of a way of life, that I am grieving something, even if I am lucky enough to have not been directly affected by COVID-19. But the upheaval and the uncertainty can definitely create anxiety.
Here are a few techniques I now use regularly:
1. Name your worrying thought. What worry are you feeling? Now ask yourself two things: Is that thought accurate? And, is it helpful?
It may not even be accurate. You may be exaggerating reality based on your anxiety. And even if the thought is accurate, is it helpful to think that way? Probably not. Instead, reframe that thought into something helpful, like, “I have lost work during the pandemic. That means I need to do extra marketing each month to get more work.”
2. Breathing. I know taking deep, long breaths helps calm your mind and body. But my therapist reminded me how to breathe properly: Take a long deep breath in through your nose—you should feel your belly expand—and then breathe out for a few seconds longer than you breathed in. I like to breathe out through my mouth (when I’m alone) because it feels like I’m pushing out the air more.
One thing my therapist added was that when you breathe out, think of a word and think of pushing that word out and away from you. Typically, this is a negative word like “anxiety” or “stress.” But if you want to just concentrate on the word, you can pick a positive word instead to focus on. If you pick a negative word to push out, you can have fun choosing the word. I like to say “freakin’ pandemic.”
3. Visualization. Pick a favorite outdoor location—do you like the beach, the mountains or the forest? Choose your spot. It can even be specific. I choose a specific hidden beach in Key West, one of my favorite places.
Now, use your senses: What does it feel like, sound like, smell like? That alone can help calm you down. But you can go farther and imagine a nearby body of water. Then, cup your hands together and put all your negative thoughts and feelings that you want to get rid of in the cup of your hands and throw them into the water. Watch them until they float away and disappear.
4. These next two suggestions aren’t from my therapists, but are good reminders to myself. This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it often needs repeating: Cut back on social media and the news. There’s a balance between being an informed citizen and obsessively tracking the news all day long. You can even quit some platforms or certain groups. I left a bunch of Facebook groups that made me angry too often. I’ve both unfriended people and unfollowed people. When you “unfollow,” you’ll still technically be friends, but you won’t see their posts. This is an easy way to get out of the situation without creating controversy over unfriending a relative. I heard a podcast guest talking about leaving the Bookstagram community on Instagram not because it made her angry but because it felt like too much work right now.
5. Accept that this year and the pandemic is just one part of your life. I’m less anxious when I think of it that way, instead of it as something to just get through, something to just wait out. THIS is my life. THIS is part of the journey. It helps me to be thankful for the little things and to focus on those small things: when my cats make me laugh or get super snuggly, watching and feeding the birds and squirrels in my backyard, waving and thanking delivery drivers, smiling at kids who ride past our house on their bikes. I have to hang on to those small moments when the big moments seem so dire and overwhelming.
Biz Bite: Chunk your projects
The Bookshelf: “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson
Psychology Today Find a Therapist tool
Psychology Today article: “Can You Reduce Anxiety and Stress by the Way You Breathe?”
Episode #48 of Deliberate Freelancer: How to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety, with Therapist Mira Dineen
Episode #52 of Deliberate Freelancer: Embracing Self-Care without Guilt, with Acupuncturist Rachel Brumberger