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Keep Calm in Anxious Times: Choose Your Response

Choose Your Response: Keeping Calm in Anxious Times

It can be hard to keep calm and positive in the midst of our current Coronavirus pandemic. If you are struggling with worry and stress, know that there are steps you can take to feel calmer and more resilient through this stressful time…

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In difficult times, such as the ones we are all currently experiencing, one of the hardest challenges can be dealing with uncertainty and the sudden lack of control over our own lives and events.

Some of us may be worried about catching Coronavirus – or  Covid-19 – while at the same time trying to work out what we’ll do to keep our children entertained and busy if schools close (if they haven’t already). We may be concerned about how we are going to survive financially, especially if we are self-employed or run our own businesses. Or we may be feeling upset about having to cancel holidays or special events like weddings and other family celebrations.

It is hard to manage these worries at the best of times, not least without having to deal with a global pandemic.

The advice may be to Keep Calm and Carry On but how do we actually achieve that? Telling yourself to stay calm is like accidentally cutting yourself on a sharp object and telling yourself not to bleed.

The simple truth is, life will always throw challenges our way; this is something we will never have control over, however much we feel we do. What we can control, however, and what can help us stay calm and more resilient, is how we choose to respond.

 

Reaction Versus Response

When we’re in the grip of a powerful emotion like fear or anger, it may feel as if we have no choice or control over our thoughts and feelings whatsoever. But we do.

How people have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic is a case in point.  On one hand we see people rushing to the supermarkets and panic buying toilet roll and soap. On the other there are people rallying together to form community groups to look after the elderly and vulnerable in our society. Two very different ways of dealing with potential threat.

A completely natural response to perceived danger is the stress response – fight, flight or freeze. Our bodies and brains are hardwired that way and, for the survival of the species, have to be.  However, our brains have a difficult time deciding what is real and what is perceived threat – danger is danger to the brain. It’s black and white.

But whereas panic may be our brain’s first automatic response, what comes next is completely within our control, however much it doesn’t feel like it.  And that is: we can choose how we act.

 

How to stay calm when all around us feels overwhelming

Every day we face a constant barrage of external stimuli – from people, situations, the news, the weather, our environments, the list goes on. Without us even being conscious of it, these external stimuli trigger a thought, which leads to a feeling which leads to an action, This is called a Looping Thought pattern – the diagram below shows how it works.

Keep calm in anxious times - choose your response

By understanding our own Looping Thought patterns, we can break the negative cycle of fear, stress and anxiety.

When we pause to examine our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can re-wire our own ingrained responses to stressful situations and choose better, more positive thoughts and feelings which lead to healthier actions. This results in a positive feedback loop, as calmer actions then calm the body’s stress response leading to calmer thoughts and feelings. Instantly,  this creates greater resilience and stronger coping mechanisms.

If you are struggling to stay calm in times of panic,  uncertainty and stress, try this simple exercise.

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A Calmer Response Exercise

1. Trigger: Take a piece of paper and write down what has happened – the event/person/situation – to cause you to feel stressed or anxious.
eg: reading an alarming headline about the spread of coronavirus.

2. Thought: Then write down the thought this trigger had created.
eg: What if we all have to self-isolate. What if the shops run out of supplies? What if my business suffers?

3. Feeling: Write down the feeling that follows this thought.
eg: fear, anxiety – include the physical symptoms that accompany these feelings.

4. Action: Then make a list of what you usually do next after you’ve had this thought and feeling.
eg: Start to panic, google Coronavirus symptoms, and read more news articles looking for reassurance but which only makes me feel worse.

5. How can I respond differently? Now think of a more positive action you can take following the thought and feeling.
eg: Informing yourself (getting the right information from official sources so you are prepared instead of feeling panic); distracting yourself (reading, listening to music, doing some exercise); comforting yourself (making a cup of herbal tea, chatting with a friend); or being proactive (thinking of positive ways to respond to the situation).

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Once you have thought about more positive actions you can choose to take in response to events or situations that usually cause anxiety or stress, visualise yourself taking these actions. Close your eyes and rehearse how you will act differently, what you will say that’s different to what you usually say, and what steps you will take to stop the negative thoughts and feelings in their tracks.

This takes practise. Changing old habits of behaviour is just like changing or stopping any habit. Practise, be patient and be kind to yourself.

If anxiety or panic is becoming an issue for you and interfering with your daily life, please get in touch to discuss how Rapid Transformational Therapy can help.

 

Additional Resources:

This Simple Breathing Tip Helps Reduce Anxiety
Inner Calm Meditation
UK Government information – Coronavirus information
World Health Organisation – Coronavirus information

Try the Inner Calm Meditation

Banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance. This 15-minute guided meditation is designed to calm frayed nerves and soothe the body’s stress response, allowing you to  slip into your own personal inner oasis of peace and calm.


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Breathing tip helps reduce anxiety | dandelion clock |www.dawnquest.co.uk

This Simple Breathing Tip Helps Reduce Anxiety

During moments of stress, anxiety and even panic attacks, the common advice tends to be to “take deep breaths”.

But that advice is now being seen as outdated, and in some cases might make stress and anxiety worse.

About a year ago, I learnt of a breathing technique that really does nix moments of stress, not just in the short-term but longer-term, and relatively quickly too. It worked for me (I’ll show you a fascinating little self-experiment in a mo), and it has also worked for my clients, so much so that I now teach my clients this method for general wellbeing regardless of whether they are suffering from anxiety or not.

Coherent or resonant breathing is a technique that helps bring both emotional and physiological systems in the body into balance in order to boost overall health and wellbeing. The idea is to make breathing slower and more rhythmic by making sure every exhalation is the same length as every inhalation. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to practise coherent breathing.

I’ve read a couple of different accounts of how and why this works. The creator of the trademarked Coherent Breathing method, Stephen Elliott proposes the theory that moving the diaphragm in a rhythmic manner stimulates the phrenic nerve thereby promoting optimal circulation, better brain function and “nourishing every cell in the body in a positive feedback loop”.

Other research shows that coherent or resonant breathing helps bring Heart Rate Variability (HRV) into a smoother, more even pattern which promotes the better functioning of every organ in the body, most importantly the brain.

HRV, by the way, is the measurement of the gaps between heart beats – and is now recognised as a far better way of measuring overall health and fitness, compared to just measuring heart rate. If you’re intrigued by HRV there is excellent information over on the HeartMath website.

First, a bit of science

Our Autonomic Nervous System is the part of our nervous system that governs automatic bodily functions like breathing, digestion and our heart beat, The ANS is in turn divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both regulate the same bodily functions but have opposite jobs. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity (fight or flight); while the parasympathetic nervous system prepares the body for relaxation and rest.

While we are awake, our optimal state is when both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are in balance. When  brain function, heart rate and breathing are all in balance, we cope with stress better, we are more sociable and positive, and tend to be more resilient.

When we are stressed, however, our bodies stay in high alert, with our sympathetic nervous systems constantly firing. Although still evolving, research into HRV and coherence is showing a link between lower coherence and disease and aging.

Coherent or resonant breathing works by hacking the ANS to bring both sympathetic and parasympathetic systems  back into balance almost instantly.

You can find a number of apps that help you track your own personal coherence index and HRV.  I use WellTory.  The results below show my body before and after 5 minutes of Coherent Breathing.

How to Practise Coherent Breathing

Relax and find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Breathe in for 6 seconds. Then breathe out for 6 seconds. If 6 seconds feels too long, start with 4 seconds and build up to 6 seconds. Make sure both your inhalation and exhalation are the same length.

Start with a minute or two then build up gradually to however long feels comfortable. Some recommend a daily practise of 20 minutes, but I tend to follow the principle of “little and often” as a guide,

You can find a number of apps that help guide you through a timed breathing technique. Calm’s Breathe setting allows you to set the timings for your breath and plays a different note for inhales and exhales (so you can practise with your eyes closed.).

The Breathing App by Deepak Chopra and Eddie Stern (with music by Moby) allows you to choose from a pre-selected format of breathing patterns with five different screens. 

Try the Inner Calm Meditation

 

Banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance. This 15-minute guided meditation is designed to calm frayed nerves and soothe the body’s stress response, allowing you to  slip into your own personal inner oasis of peace and stillness.

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