Resources mentioned in the episode:
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
- books by French social psychologist Jacques Salomé
- Brene Brown’s Rising Strong
- Yoga with Adriene
- the Bannersnack podcast season dedicated to empathy.
Full episode transcript:
It’s been a tough week for the entire world.
I found it difficult to concentrate these days and I’ve heard the same from basically everyone, no matter their age or where they are in the world.
For example, all I could do in a day was to edit an article, which usually takes me much less.
It’s not difficult to feel triggered during this time, even anxiety hasn’t been a major issue for you, as it has been for me in the past for example. People who’ve never experienced these levels of uncertainty, confusion, and fear might have a difficult time understanding their emotions and gaining control over them.
It may not be you, but it may be someone you love.
Getting from here to there
When response to stress turns into anxiety, being told to “keep calm” and that “everything will be okay” helps but it doesn’t help everyone in the same way. While some people have the ability to use these messages to project their future in a more positive light, for others it’s really hard to visualize it.
Because I am the kind of person whose anxiety is easily triggered and the kind of person who finds it really challenging to envision an optimistic outlook, I thought it might help to share a bit of what I’ve learned from therapy and coaching.
Recalibrating my response to stress factors is still work in progress, but I’ve made more progress than I ever thought I could. Besides reading about it, I’m now truly convinced that you can rewire the brain to respond differently to the same triggers. Not that I didn’t believe studies and the brilliant people behind them. It’s just that when going through rough times, it was hard to believe that it could work for me.
But it did! And there’s so much more I wanted to practice and apply to get even better.
Looking at the times ahead, foggy as they are now, I can’t see how else we’re going to recover and eventually thrive without the ability to:
- manage anxiety,
- navigate uncertainty,
- stick to healthy habits,
- and make good decisions, not just for us, but for others too.
I wanted to share this personal story because the rest that follows is a quick list of ideas, habits, and practices that help me weather difficult moments.
Give your brain a break
With this escalating situation around us, getting a good night’s sleep may be harder than usual. Especially if you’re coming from an intense few weeks or months or if you’re a bit burnt out.
Good sleep is SO important every day and especially when we’re forced to change our daily habits and adjust to a new way of working, of interacting socially, and living together.
A good night’s sleep gives us perspective, it takes us out of survival mode, which may be many people’s main way of interacting with the world these days.
When we’re anxious, our sympathetic nervous system activity increases. That’s the part of our nervous system that controls our fight or flight response. The more active the sympathetic nervous system is, the higher our blood pressure gets, asides other physical effects.
The Director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Berkeley University in California said that:
“Without sleep, the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity — in that it was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produced controlled, appropriate responses.”
During sleep, the sympathetic nervous system gets a chance to relax. Sleeping actually, physically and mentally washes away your anxiety.
This means you’re less likely to get triggered the next day. It also decreases the chances you’ll be moody.
Good sleep also keeps you healthy and it can even improve your health if you’ve been sleeping poorly or a longer period of time.
If you find yourself waking up at 5am, here’s what you can try.
My brain likes to wake up at 4:33 am when it’s anxious. I used to get very frustrated because I tried going back to sleep and I just couldn’t.
When it becomes clear that there’s no chance of falling back asleep, my go to thing is to read. I pick a book that’s soothing, that’s not too stimulating. It doesn’t mean it has to be a bad book.
For example, I tend to read psychology or a bit of fiction, like A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. For example, many nights were made much better while I was reading one of French social psychologist Jacques Salomé and now I’m reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, which I feel we all need to do right now.
It often happens that, after a few pages and maybe some water, my brain starts to relax and untangle from the whirling of thoughts that accompany 4:33 am wake ups. That’s when I get sleepy again and crawl back in bed with my partner whose peaceful sleep I want to join in. After 1 or 2 more hours of sleep, I wake up refreshed, with zero frustration, and a few pages read. Win!
Set healthy boundaries
So sleep is the first thing worth paying a bit more attention to these days.
Developing a power on-power off routine is the second.
If you haven’t worked from home before – at least not on a regular basis – you may find it a tad difficult to adjust during the first few days. I’ve been doing it for almost a year and a half and I love it! I did my fair share of mistakes though.
In order to help your mind know when it’s time to focus and get work done and when it’s time to power off and relax, you need to give it cues.
- For example, my morning routine includes:
- journaling, which helps me empty my mind
- drinking a glass of water while making tea or coffee
- changing into homewear that’s not my PJs – very important
- and then turning on my laptop and getting to work.
But while I may be good at mornings – because I love them – I’m really bad at evenings and powering down.
I realized I need to turn off my laptop, gather my notes and stuff I use for work and stack them up to disconnect from work. My email notifications are disabled and I’ve gotten better and better at not checking it.
What I’m still struggling with is not checking my messages or peeking at the news. And these days I’m not exactly peeking at the news. Now more than ever opening any news app is like drinking from a firehose. And that’s seriously unhealthy.
To maintain awareness of the time I spend on my phone and on apps I know trigger an unhealthy response, I’ve set limits in Screen Time.
This has helped me bring my screen time to a daily average of under 2 hours. It also helps me limit my news intake.
There are a bunch of apps you can try to monitor and limit the time you spend reading news or on social media. When you see the numbers and do some light math to see the compound effect, I think you may be motivated to use your energy and brain power in a different way.
These days, it’s really easy to go out of control and use the news and social media to try and satisfy our need for certainty. But we won’t find certainty there.
While I advocate for being informed and aware of how the situation is developing and what measures we need to follow for everyone’s sake, you don’t need to stay connected 24/7 to do it.
Scheduling specific times of day to check the news and social channels can help too!
A good book, an uplifting or interesting documentary, a video call with friends can lift your mood, calm your anxiety, and help you more than all the social media posts in the world can, no matter how smart or thoughtful they may be.
I’m very thankful to all the people in my bubble who share their own experiences and encourage and inspire others to either feel less alone and more support or to take action in every way they can. Still, I start to feel calmer when I take a step back from the constant flow of information and just pour my thoughts out, either on paper, in an article draft, or here, on the podcast.
So there’s sleep, the power on – power off routine, and limiting your intake of news and social media.
Got a minute?
Another thing that I find essential is to be active indoors as much as possible.
Since the best thing we can all do right now is stay at home, we’re going to get sore backs and joints that feel a bit rusty after a couple of days. Not everyone has the best office chair or desk or a huge house, so we have to do our best to move a bit.
I can recommend Yoga with Adriene, a great channel that showed me yoga can be more fun and easier than I thought. If yoga’s not your thing, there are SO many home workout videos out there, and a ton of them don’t require any special equipment. Just you in comfy pants, a t-shirt, and the choice to move a bit and give your body some attention.
Getting the blood flowing will also help with sleep, concentration, digestion, and your mood.
Find what works for you and do that
This podcast is about making better decisions. Paying attention to your choices and tweaking them a bit here and there will make A BIG difference these days and going forward. Take it from someone who’s been anxious almost her entire life and has learned to manage it.
It went from the decisions to go to therapy to making it a constant practice, from ideas and concepts into daily decisions and habits.
Empty your mind on a piece of paper.
Create more than you consume.
Find ways to connect with others – through podcasts, books, video calls, phone calls, whatever suits you best.
Channel your energy into self-care and then taking care of others.
We all need to feel less alone these days.
We all need to find the strength to overcome mental and economic pressure.
We all need to find anchors in a world that’s changing fast and profoundly.
We all need to find joy and wonder in the small things we may have forgotten about.
The good news is that we all can, no matter how vulnerable or fragile we feel.
It starts with the decision to spend some time nurturing your mind, soul, and body with good ideas, good sleep, and good food, so you can stay healthy, so you can build resilience and support both yourself and others.
I hope you’ll give a listen to the other episodes in this podcast. Many of my previous guests have been through challenging experiences and they all have valuable ideas and helpful ways to look at the world that apply to what we’re all going through right now.
I’m also working with Bannersnack on a special podcast season dedicated to empathy. The first two episodes are out. You can find the links in the show notes.
Discussing empathy with amazing women who’ve been through really difficult moments has taught me SO much and reminded me or how crucial it is to feel with others and better understand where everyone is coming from these days.
Give those a listen if you want to add a couple of new tools to your emotional intelligence toolbox.
Until next time, stay inside, wash your hands, and be patient with both yourself and others.