What’s happening in the world is out of your control. These 7 strategies will help you feel better.
The co-writers of “Dear Evan Hansen,” Lady Gaga’s mom, and the co-founder of Crisis Text Line share their tips.
BY REBECCA RUIZ
Try as we may to keep uncertainty and anxiety at bay, it’s ultimately an impossible mission.
You can’t blame people for trying, though, especially when the world seems increasingly in the throes of chaos. Whether it’s widespread unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic, or hastening climate change, most people want to cling to something certain — and something positive.
The good news is that while we can’t dictate how or when misfortune happens to us or those we love, we can find ways to manage anxiety about our fears.
It’s important to remember that there’s not a single, universal prescription. Some people swear by deep breaths; others would rather exercise. Some favor self-care tools like healthy eating and sleep, and others find comfort in professional therapy. Plenty of people prefer all of the above.
While none of these skills or techniques are replacements for systemic political changes that provide an equitable safety net for all, the ability to cope can make hardship more bearable.
We invited seven prominent figures — Dear Evan Hansen co-writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; mindfulness expert Shauna Shapiro; California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris; Born This Way Foundation co-founder Cynthia Germanotta; emotions researcher Marc Brackett; and, Crisis Text Line co-founder Nancy Lublin- to share their tips and personal experiences for managing uncertainty and anxiety in a rapidly changing world. Here is what they said:
Benj Pasek on loneliness and connection
Before COVID-19 forced Americans into a new world of “self-isolation,” so many people I love already suffered from feeling disconnected and alone. Many days, I’d count myself among them. So when given the mandate to retreat from the social norms we once knew, we’ve undoubtedly exacerbated the symptoms that generally accompany loneliness — depression, anxiety, and all that fun stuff we hope will go away with enough distraction or avoidance.
When thinking about how to help those I love, I also think about what would inevitably help me too. Knowing that there are people in your life who will reach out to you (when prompted or unprompted), reminding you that whatever you are going through on any particular day isn’t permanent — that helps. Knowing that despite peaks and valleys, there are those who love you unconditionally and those you love as well, eager to connect again on the other side of this, helps too.
Loneliness is a silent assassin, so the more vocal we can be expressing not only our care for those we suspect are suffering, but express our suffering to those who care for us — that’s the only way I know how to fight back. Something as small as an email, a text, a phone call, a tiny reminder of connection, is a way to cope; to reach out to friends and family (even when they’re too afraid to call out, and to find the courage to reach out and ask for a little help when we ourselves are in need of a little rescuing.
Justin Paul on gratitude
This is, of course, an enormously unprecedented time, and with so much isolation and limitation to how we can interact with those we love, it can be really easy to slip into anxiety and worry. I am absolutely prone to that — even in non-pandemic times — but especially now, and I find the easiest way to combat that worry is to lean into gratitude for this time we do have, and the ways we have, to connect with each other.
I have been isolating with my pregnant wife, two young children, and my parents, and while I worry an enormous amount about all of them, I have been incredibly grateful for these months spent together that we realistically would never have experienced otherwise.
In a larger sense, I feel that this moment is magnifying something we all tend to grapple with: that so very little in life is ultimately within our control. So rather than focusing on my anxiety around my family, and friends, and community, I’m constantly challenging myself to take that energy of concern and find ways to channel it into a practice of gratitude and into making the most of every moment we do have together.
Shauna Shapiro on getting unstuck
All of us can feel the impact of these uncertain and challenging times on our hearts and in our nervous systems. While there are parts of the situation that we cannot control, that does not mean we are powerless. When I become overwhelmed and gripped by painful emotions, I follow three simple yet powerful steps to bring me back to center.
1)Name it to tame it.
First, I bring mindfulness to whatever I am feeling and simply name it. For example, “I’m scared right now” or “I feel overwhelmed.” Research shows that when we name our emotions it actually puts the brakes on our physiological reactivity, down-regulates the nervous system, and allows us to see clearly. This is called “name it to tame it.”
2) Welcome emotions.
The second step I follow is to welcome my difficult emotions. Emotions have a limited time span, typically lasting for only 30 to 90 seconds. They arise, do their dance, and pass away, just like waves in the ocean. When I remember that this painful feeling will not last forever it becomes more manageable.
3) Cultivate compassion.
The final step to managing difficult emotions is to cultivate compassion, for myself, and others. Self-compassion involves treating myself just as I would treat a dear friend who is facing a similar struggle. As I practice bringing this kindness and care to myself, I am able to connect with the suffering of others. This helps remind me that I am not alone in my fear and overwhelm, that there are many others right now who are also afraid. As I recognize my common humanity, my isolation begins to lessen, and I understand that we are all in this together.
Shauna Shapiro is a professor in counseling psychology at Santa Clara University and author of Good Morning, I Love You: Mindfulness and Self-Compassion Practices to Rewire Your Brain for Calm, Clarity, and Joy.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on handling trauma
As my career has been dedicated to serving vulnerable communities, bearing witness to trauma is a big part of that work. In order to stay in the work and find solutions, self-care is not optional. We cannot be of service if we have nothing in us to give. As a physician and stress and trauma research scientist, I am acutely aware of how stress shows up for me biologically. Having a strong awareness of how stress shows up individually is key to identify the ways for us to regulate our stress response systems.
The best way to combat stress hormones are from six stress-busting categories: supportive relationships, healthy sleep, nutrition, mindfulness, exercise, and mental health. My self-care routine is specific and I keep to it.
I keep appointments with my therapist. I am diligent about my bedtime and I wake up early to get my power walk on while listening to an audio book. My diet is not about keeping weight off, it’s about combating stress hormones, so I avoid high-sugar/high-fat foods. And I practice mindfulness through meditation. My husband and my family are the ultimate stress buster for me; having quality time with them is truly healing.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is California Surgeon General and author of The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.
Cynthia Germanotta on the power of kindness
Fond memories of skipping rocks on the creek near the camp house where I grew up, in a small town in West Virginia, have been a source of inspiration lately. I was always fascinated by the ripple effects of the pebbles in the water. I often think about how we are like pebbles on this planet, and how our individual actions affect our families, neighbors, communities, and, ultimately, the world. We each have the power to be brave, kind, and compassionate to help each other get through this difficult time.
Earlier this month, Maya [Enista Smith], Born This Way Foundation’s executive director, and I started a ripple within our own team by inviting each member to send treats to healthcare teams across the country. I sent baked treats to Wheeling Hospital, which is near my home in West Virginia, and received lovely notes from the healthcare team there expressing gratitude for that small act of kindness.
While you stay home and practice physical distancing, I invite you to start a ripple in your community by performing one act of kindness at a time.
Cynthia Germanotta is the president and co-founder, with her daughter Lady Gaga, of Born This Way Foundation.
Marc Brackett on dealing with emotions
I’ve learned that in order to regulate strong emotions successfully, I have to properly label them. Why? Because the strategies we might use to regulate interrelated yet distinct emotions such as anxiety, stress, and overwhelmed can be different.
Anxiety pertains to uncertainty about the future, stress happens when we feel like we have too many demands and not enough resources, and we become overwhelmed when we have too much on our plate. When I’m anxious I tend to use cognitive strategies like self-talk and reappraisal. I say something to myself like, “Marc, you can handle this!” [ Editor’s note: Reappraisal is the act of reassessing a situation with a more positive spin or approach.]
When I’m stressed, I have found breathing exercises to be helpful to feel more at ease. And when I’m overwhelmed (which I tend to feel more than stress or anxiety), I’ve found the only thing that really works is taking things off my plate. Research shows that the five skills of emotional intelligence — known as the “ RULER” skills — all contribute to our ability to use our emotions wisely. The skills include: recognizing emotions, understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, labeling emotions precisely, expressing emotions comfortably, and regulating emotions with helpful strategies.
Research shows that people with more developed emotional intelligence have greater wellbeing, make more informed decisions, build and maintain positive relationships, and attain desired goals.
Marc Brackett is founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive.
Nancy Lublin on living in the moment
I’ve got a decent stack of chips in front of me. Warm brownie next to me. Pocket aces in the hole. And three suckers at the table with me.
They fall in love with every card they’re dealt but know I’ve got the nuts and they’re holding crap cards. They should fold. But they’re live ones, full of hope that better cards will appear.
I feel the need to scream like popcorn bursting in a pan full of oil, “I’ve got you beat, suckas!” Instead, I sigh as if I’m bored. I eat my brownie like it’s the last chocolate on Earth — nibbling at it like the queen, smushing every morsel in my mouth with my tongue like its a 5-year-old [whisky] Lagavulin.
These three people are fresh meat. OK. So, one is 15, another is 12, and neither have played poker before. I don’t care. I don’t feel like being nice right now. So I check.
My sweet son who hasn’t showered in two days and has avoided washing a single dish all week, bets two red chips. I take another bite of sinful sugar and cocoa. It’s my appetizer. I’m about to eat my young.
My daughter calls the two red chips. Who taught her this passivity? Nobody who checks will survive the night.
My now-bearded husband raises a blue chip. Looking at the kids and me with a too-obvious smile. Oh sweet man. This is not a moment to bluff, especially with that grin and giggle, as if you’ve just watched yet another episode of Impractical Jokers on your iPad on the potty … again.
It’s back to me. After an hour in line, I used to stand at Sweetgreen, sizing up the toppings. Now in quarantine I look at their stacks with the same mix of patience and hunger. I raise 3 black chips.
They’re aghast. What?!
“Mom, didn’t you check before?”
“Can you even do that?”
“You’re check-raising our kids?” my husband adds.
It’s going to cost them if they want to see my goodies. I’m done folding clothes. Who knew people who don’t go anywhere could make this much laundry?! I’m tired of feeling sad about the loss of life, loss of our lives. I’m fried and overwhelmed and exhausted by it all. But this is poker. It’s the arena. I want a victory.
My kids call me. Going all-in. My husband joins them because, ‘ya know, it’s a family game. And seeing their stacks in the middle of the table gives me more joy than I have felt in seven weeks. We turn over our cards and my glory is revealed.
We’ve played poker five times as a family. Texas Hold ’Em tournament style. Forced blinds. Mommy has won all five times.
And feels no regret.
Nancy Lublin is founder and CEO of Crisis Text Line.
If you are experiencing emotional distress, you can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline by calling 1–800–985–5990 or texting TalkWithUs to 66746. If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24/7. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor.
Originally published at https://mashable.com