9 ways to feel better during anxious times

Nine ways to get through anxious times from Santa Rosa life coach & psychotherapist Patty Bechtold. www.wiselifetherapy.com

We’ve had some anxious times here in California lately.

Still, we’re getting really good at packing our go bags and having them ready in case of evacuations or emergencies. And these days, you can find tons of online advice about just what needs to go in a go bag.

But lately I’ve wondered if we need another kind of go bag too.

An emotional go bag for anxious times.

Because we’re just a little over a week out from perhaps the most consequential election of our lifetimes.

And no matter if you feel hopeful and positive about the outcome, or worried and stressed, there’s a tremendous sense that we are living in anxious times.

Of course the anxiety makes sense, given the year we’ve been through. Or more accurately, the last four years that we’ve been through.

I remember well when I relocated my therapy and coaching practice to Sonoma County four years ago, at the end of 2016. Much to my surprise it took off really fast.

Turns out our current president was good for business. In fact, the last four years have taken a real toll on our collective mental health and well-being.

And now, the story is poised to take a turn for the better.

But how do we emotionally make it through to the final (hopefully good) outcome?

Not surprisingly, this has been coming up in therapy and coaching sessions. And I’m thinking a lot about this now. I’m getting clearer on what I need to do for my own emotional well-being during these anxious times.

First, I’m stepping away from most online activities for the near future, and not just news. In their place: movies. Uplifting movies. Beloved movies. Fun movies.

I’m also spending as much time as possible outside. Breathing. Strolling. Journaling most days. And since I can’t write in coffee shops I’ve taken to driving out to some scenic place and journaling in my car. It’s remarkably satisfying.

Finally, I’ve been making SoulCollage cards and finishing the prerequisites for the SoulCollage facilitator training in November. At first I thought I’d be overloaded by it, but it’s actually a welcome distraction and a very rich experience.

These activities regulate my nervous system and move me toward optimism and hope. They’re soothing and comforting, and most of all they make me happy.

Which is exactly the kind of emotional balm I want for you too.

So I’ve gathered together links to nine resources that will hopefully help you fill your emotional go bag and get through these anxious times. They cover:

  • Breathing and Guided Meditation
  • Body Wisdom and Bilateral Stimulation
  • Handwork and Making
  • Water to Calm and Soothe
  • Journaling for Self-Care

They’re all simple, fast and easy to do. Dip into one or two, or try them all.

I often recommend them to my clients and I regularly use them myself. In fact, if you’ve been around here awhile you may have seen some of them before.

But I want you to have them all in one place right now, at your fingertips. Because no matter what happens, the more emotionally filled up we are the better we’ll be in the long run.

So here you go:

Breathing and guided meditation for anxious times…

Breathing is almost always good (unless you’re feeing panicky and hyperventilating).

A deep breath is often an almost automatic go-to during anxious times: step back, pause, take a breath. Repeat as many times as needed.

Releasing the breath with a longer exhale is particularly grounding and centering, which is why I’m partial to the 4-7-8 technique.

Also, the rhythmic breathing that you settle into during guided meditations extends the benefits and gives our imagination free reign. (You may want to have a journal and pen with you when you listen to the guided meditations.)

Body wisdom and bilateral stimulation…

Your body holds bone deep wisdom to calm and comfort you during anxious times, especially via experiences of bilateral stimulation. This kind of movement can increase relaxation, help unstick repeating thoughts, make problems seem less intense and decrease worries.

That’s why I love this series of short videos from Debbie Augenthaler. The techniques are easy and simple, and as Debbie says they help a lot when you’re feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.

Handwork and making…

There is so much good in using your hands and making things. Your hands hold a kind of creative wisdom that sends waves of well-being to your brain during anxious times.

Handwork is not only meditative and relaxing, but it also enhances motivation and the brain’s effort-reward system. Not to mention its ability to increase self-esteem and mental health.

There are tons of ways to use your hands: cooking, baking, knitting, gardening, sewing, repairing, drawing, painting, doodling, to name a few. I even consider writing (with pen and paper) a form of handwork.

And then there’s collage. I adore Connie Weyrich’s Collage of Calm process, combining one or two images with found poetry words. Quick, simple and yet tremendously profound.

Water to calm and soothe…

Someone once told me that when you’re feeling confused and stuck, get near water, on water or in water. I think there’s something to that; I used to live in a house with a hot tub, and more often than not all that water relaxed my body and cleared my head, leaving me quite blissful.

Nowadays I make do with a shower or bath. But I also find this beach video the perfect antidote to anxious times and late night doom scrolling. I’m sharing it because I know a lot of us experience beachy happiness and serenity, which actually has to do with our senses.

As it turns out, we derive pure pleasure from the sound of predictable wave patterns and soft volumes at regular intervals. Ocean sounds actually activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex which is associated with emotion and self-reflection.

Visually, when you’re able to look out at a flat plane or vista, you tend to feel safe and secure. You even have an emotional response to the feel of sand under your feet and between your toes.

Journaling: dialogue with a wisdom figure…

There are so many journaling techniques that have the potential to soothe and comfort during anxious times. In my last blog post, I shared my first experience (direct from the source–my journal) of dialoguing with a wise woman figure that showed up almost three years ago.

This wisdom figure still visits me in my journal. She has morphed and changed over time, as have I. But each time she appears I come away feeling replenished and renewed, having touched something deeper within me and better able to cope.

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Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.
– Kahlil Gibran