We all have choices. In challenging times, the choice is choosing what we pay attention to and where we direct our focus. During a global pandemic and a U.S. election year, it’s tempting to focus on the unknown, the “swirl,” the what-if scenarios – but the questions we all have to ask ourselves are, “How is this serving me? What is the most powerful, healthy and productive choice I can make here and now?” Below are tips to help keep anxiety at bay:
- Watch the news less
It’s one thing to check the local weather and get a basic idea of what’s happening in your community. Watching the news for hours on end, however, is entirely another. Once you have information about what’s going on in your world, have the presence of mind to step away. Let your heart and soul rest from negative news. Allowing the same heavy content to be pushed on you for hours every day feeds anxiety. Fight it instead by going on a hike, grabbing a good book or watching a light-hearted show to escape and relax.
- Focus on what’s in your control
Not letting things that worry you hijack your attention is easier said than done, but mastering this form of self-control is vital to managing stress. Let go of things that you, personally, can’t control. Can you single-handedly choose who’s elected president? Nope. Can you have an impact on the outcome and make your voice heard? Yep! Replace big concerns with small proactive steps you can take to counteract them.
- Use free time productively
The time we spend ruminating on current events can be put to much better use. If you’ve recently lost a job or been forced to spend more time at home, then perhaps there’s an opportunity to learn a new skill or hobby. Take your professional knowledge to the next level with podcasts, audiobooks, and online courses. Revise your resume, network with people with whom you’ve been meaning to reconnect. Plan your days by dedicating your focus to specific tasks during designated time slots. Ideally, plan ahead (at least the day before) so you can wake up with a positive and productive mission in mind.
- Create healthy distractions
Replace worry with distractions that break you away from unhealthy obsessions. This can be as simple as dialing up a loved one (and not talking about everything that’s wrong in the world). Create rituals to spend time with those you care about – make a meal, watch a new Netflix series, or exercise together.
- Utilize Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
Telling people how you feel and what you appreciate about them is a valuable practice, especially during tough times. Examine your life: What resources are available to you? For what are you grateful? The pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry David Cooperrider’s “Ah-Ha!” moment came when he and his team member found themselves in an increasingly hostile and negative atmosphere while working on a research project and decided to change their approach. Rather than inquire into what was NOT working, they decided to examine what was in fact going well. The revelation was that inquiry itself can powerfully shape the way we perceive and develop our systems and support as human beings. Change your thoughts in order to shift your mindset, your disposition and your energy into a more positive direction.
- Just breathe
Stress and anxiety can have a number of physical, as well as emotional, consequences. When we are anxious, for example, we often take more frequent, shallow breaths. This can lead to tightness in the chest and even panic attacks. Simple breathing exercises, used when overwhelmed, can be remarkably effective at calming stress and anxiety. Box Breathing, a tool often used by Navy Seals to stay calm in stressful situations, can be done quickly and discreetly. Close your mouth and slowly breathe in through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for four seconds. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Hold the exhale for another four counts.
Did you know the Apple watch has a reminder to breathe? But no fancy device needed, you can simply set any timer to prompt you to stop and do deep breathing exercises – if you’re feeling really anxious, every half an hour!
When we feel like our back is against the wall, we must be intentional to find mental escape. Amidst the pandemic, it’s up to each one of us to do our best to not only protect our bodies from the virus but our heads from the disease of negative thinking. Make choices every day that will serve you well.
Leigh Ann Errico is a Georgetown University-certified leadership coach, Corentus-certified team coach and the founder of LAErrico & Partners.