“Anxiety comes when our brain doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Another therapist described anxiety to me using that sentence many years ago. As observed through my own journey, personally and professionally, she couldn’t have been more right!
That unsettled feeling in your gut that metastasizes into a plethora of ruminating thoughts – that is anxiety. Not only does anxiety come when our brain doesn’t know what to expect, it also fills in the blanks. And typically it fills in the blanks with the absolute WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO!
Maybe this is a familiar feeling. But perhaps it is a new feeling resulting in the current COVID-19 crisis. Virtually show of hands if this sounds familiar!👋🏻
There are so many unknowns right now. And they are BIG and potentially LIFE CHANGING unknowns. The worst part is, we aren’t in control of most of it! This is a trend that immediately began developing among almost everyone. We have shifted the majority of sessions to coping with all of this. We work on creating and practicing a GIANT TOOLBOX of coping skills to deal with the acute feelings most of us are dealing with.
By now you may be thinking, “Okay, Marcy and Emmett. Get to the part where you tell me what do!”
Here are five tips to help our “brains to know what’s going to happen next” in response to the current crisis.
Make a schedule. Remember, our brain likes to know what to expect next. We can create this structure in a schedule. Hang up your schedule in the kitchen, bedroom, wherever! The schedule does not have to be overly-structured or complicated. In fact – keep it simple! Don’t forget to add in your “in between activities” for self-regulation time between school work and to break up the day!
Don’t keep everything in. What happens when a pot of water is left on the stove for too long? It boils over and water spills out with an accompanying “sizzle” sound. We are the same way. It is crucial, now more than ever, to “empty out our brains” throughout the day. Everything action has a reaction no matter what we would like to tell ourselves. There is always an “effect” to the “cause.” Take a few seconds to do a nightly “brain dump” in a notebook kept by your bed. You can do this throughout the day and/or use the “notes” section on your phone. Not keeping things bottled up will help ensure we don’t “boil over” like the pot of water.
Be patient with yourself. We are all attempting to create a “new (temporary) routine.” We are not used to this current, solitary, way of life. Even an individual who spends most of their time at home most likely looks forward to the menial banter they have with the employees at the local coffee shop. We may find that we are not as patient with ourselves, our spouses, friends, pets, bosses, kids, etc. This is okay. Everyone is dysregulated to some degree right now at various times. We are doing our best with what we can at that moment. We might find we (and our kids) need more “brain breaks” during tasks – that is okay!
Stay connected. Talk to friends, family… and be honest. Facetime, Zoom, and other social media platforms can be a great way to be “alone, together!” It can be easy to isolate when stuck inside and torn away from our previous routine. While creating our new routine, make sure you’re staying connected. Perhaps it doesn’t look the same, but get creative! “Pictionary” with friends on Zoom, connecting the kids with friends on Facetime, checking out any virtual storytime and live virtual events in your community.
Ground yourself. The previous four tips all help us stay GROUNDED. We find we may need to make extra and more intentional effort to be present. Go outside for a few minutes (or longer) throughout the day and listen to the birds, watch the raindrops fall, notice the new flowers and blooms that surround us. When we slow down and use our senses to take in the world around us (or our favorite cup of coffee), we can be present. And my friends, all we have control over is the present.
“Anxiety comes when our brain doesn’t know what’s going to happen next.” That is the tidbit shared in the beginning of this blog post. Ask yourself, “How can I help my brain to know what will happen next?” Review the tips above to assist on this journey.
We are all in this together. You are not alone and as Emmett likes to say, “I believe in you, my friend!”