This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re going on a journey to explore a few ways we can all become more aware of and improve our mental health. Join us on our blog, on social at @findmywellbeing, or in our newsletter.
Last week, we discussed the impact exercise has on mental health and how you can incorporate exercise into your routine. This week, we are sharing meditations, exercises, and tools direct from our therapists that can help you reduce anxiety and reground.
One of the many things coronavirus has changed is the availability of resources to help us reduce our individual and collective anxiety.
For example, long before I knew what anxiety was, walking was my way of coping with it. The second my breathing sped up or the walls started closing in, I would head outdoors. When coronavirus reached my adopted home of New York City, I was confident that I would be able to manage my anxiety around the new normal through physically distanced walks.
Then, my partner and I were quarantined because of coronavirus exposure. We could not leave our apartment without potentially putting others at risk. Like so many others, I needed to find new ways to reduce my elevated anxiety quickly.
During this time, our coping mechanisms may look different, and that is okay and normal. It is also worthy of celebration! We are resilient and we can find new ways to thrive in difficult environments.
However, it is so much easier to develop new tools when you have support. We asked our therapists what meditations, exercises, and tools they use to reduce anxiety or reground. We encourage you to try whichever tools resonate with you!
“When you are feeling overwhelmed by thoughts or emotions: Imagine a bright blue sky with light and fluffy clouds—this is the natural state of your mind.
Now, imagine that some dark, stormy clouds come in—these are overwhelming feelings or thoughts. They hang in the sky for a while. They may disrupt the day with thunder or rain. But, after a while, they pass through and once again we see the bright blue sunny sky.
This [bright blue] sky never left. Some stormy clouds came and went and we welcomed their presence.
When you feel overwhelmed, just remember this image. Know that the stormy clouds will pass and behind the clouds is the bright blue sky, the natural state of mind.”
“Tape a large sheet of paper to a table or wall so that it won’t move while drawing. Choose two of the same drawing tools (oil pastels or chalk pastels work great, and it’s fine to use whatever you have on hand - perhaps pens, pencils, crayons, markers)
Take one in each hand, and keep both hands touching as you draw a sideways figure eight shape. Let it be large enough to fill the entire space of the paper.
Let your hands make a continuous drawing of this same shape, with no end or beginning, going over and over the image. This is about the experience of making the drawing, not about how it looks.
You can try closing your eyes while you draw. Pay attention to how your body moves as you draw this shape. You may experience a flowing, rocking motion, which can be soothing and calming.”
“I have two favorite meditation grounding techniques I practice several times throughout the day to reconnect to the present.
One easy way is to feel my feet on the ground and imagine I am rooting to the earth, just like a tree. A second one is inhaling the word ‘love’ or ‘calm’ and exhaling the word ‘fear’ or ‘anxious’.”
“The ‘relaxation response’ is a natural, wired-in process, just as the stress response is. A relaxation response meditation is a great way to hit the reset button and reverse the effects of stress buildup in the body.
Imagine relaxation moving through your body, starting with the toes, going all the way up to the top of the head. Then bring your attention to the breath in the belly. Then, add a calming word to repeat silently to yourself on the exhale, like ‘one,’ or ‘peace.’
That’s it! Do this for 10 minutes and feel a deep relaxation.”
“Stand barefoot, with your feet hip-width apart, and your back against a wall. Bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until you are in a position as if sitting on an invisible chair. Hold this position for five minutes.
The tension from the sustained holding of this pose will cause tremors, releasing muscular tension and holding. Allow the shaking to happen!
Breathe fully. Relax your mouth and jaw. Make sounds if that feels good. When finished, you may slide up to stand, or slide down to sit on the floor.
Take time to feel how your body is supported by the ground, and to notice any sensations.
You may feel more grounded in your lower body, legs, and feet, and may experience tingling or fine vibration in your legs.
This pose can help move energy down from the head, into the lower body, creating a sense of being grounded and present. The strong physical sensations produced by wall-sitting draw attention and energy away from anxious thoughts in the mind, down into the present moment experience in the body.”
“Another wonderful grounding exercise for anxiety is to stand barefoot and push your arms into a wall. Feel the connection from your feet up through your arms. This can be grounding and empowering. It provides containment while moving energy that’s been activated in the body.”
“Slowing down the activity of the nervous system can significantly decrease anxiety levels.
To begin, stop scrolling news articles and social media to lessen eye stimulation. Then, find a comfortable seat and relatively quiet space where you can see nature, if possible—in the park, or even near a window where you can see the sky, trees, or some part of the natural environment. Gently shift the gaze left-to-right and backward multiple times.
Perhaps there is a particularly distressing thought that keeps arising in your mind. If that's the case, just note that the thought is there, and continue to breathe and alternate your gaze. Notice if the perception or relationship with that thought begins to shift and change, maybe the reaction to it subsides.”
It may not seem that way right now, but having to develop new coping strategies and tools to reduce our anxiety can be a valuable opportunity. It allows us to come back to the world with new ways to reduce our anxiety that work in different situations and a new empathy for others and the techniques they use to reduce anxiety.
Walking is a great coping mechanism during the day, but it isn’t as helpful when I’m too anxious to sleep. When I couldn’t walk during quarantine, I picked up a MyWellbeing team-favorite technique: journaling. Now, I have a new way to calm down enough to sleep. (We’ll be learning more ways to get better sleep next week—stay tuned!).
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that it is easier to develop new skills to manage anxiety when you have support. Therapy can provide that additional support and an environment where you can learn what tools might work best for you. The impact of such an environment is profound.
We have heard that this is an unprecedented time so frequently that the words start to lose their impact, but it is true. The fact that this has never happened before in our lifetimes can surface a number of different feelings, many of them new to us. If you are feeling more anxious right now (or less anxious), we hear you and we are here for you. We will get through this together by sharing coping strategies and supporting each other.
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Mariah was Head of Growth at MyWellbeing. She is a marketing expert in the areas of content strategy, digital advertising, business growth, and anything related to helping therapists grow their practice.