Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 48s. (But it’s skimmable.)
These days, it can feel tough to strike a balance between staying informed and staying levelheaded.
Here’s something I haven’t yet written about on this blog: a little over a year ago, overwhelmed by work, I went through some periods of pretty intense anxiety. I’ll be writing more about this later down the line, but needless to say, in the process of overcoming this anxiety, I stumbled upon a number of helpful strategies for finding calm.
If you’re feeling a bit anxious right now, I don’t blame you, and you’re certainly not alone.
Here are a few strategies that have worked well for me to invest in both my mental health and sense of calm at the same time.
Exercise every single day. Exercise is probably the best stress-reliever available: it balances our brain chemicals, is an outlet for stress, and usually leaves us feeling less anxious than before. For this reason, during self-isolation I’m working out at home (or outside, as long as that option is available) every single day. No exceptions.
Meditate. Meditation doesn’t change what you experience, but it completely changes how you relate to what you experience. It’s a practice that allows you to see events around you with equanimity; you’re less phased by periods of chaos and uncertainty. There has never been a better time to learn to meditate than now. (Here’s a short guide I wrote that contains everything you need to get started.)
Get lost in a book. When we go through stressful periods, we have the tendency to turn to “escape hatches” to avoid confronting what we’re feeling. Most of these are unhealthy escapes that can be fun in small doses: drinking alcohol, binge-watching TV shows, distracting ourselves with overeating or social media. Of all of the escape hatches we can deploy, books are among the most healthy. They allow our mind to slow down a bit, so we can process what we’re going through, while we lose ourselves in a story.
Reduce how much caffeine you consume. When you consume caffeine, your body releases more norepinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol (a stress hormone). This can be good when we need to focus and get work done, but during stressful times, this leads us to feel more overwhelmed. It’s helpful to view caffeine as a sort of liquid stress; great for when you need a jolt, and less helpful for when you’re already feeling anxious. If you are feeling on edge, consider cutting back how much caffeine you consume each day. Here’s how to reset your caffeine tolerance.
Have hours in which you disconnect. I published another piece today on how to stop refreshing the news, where I chat a bit about how important it is to disconnect, especially from the news. On most days, the news allows us to catch up on events going on around the world—both positive and negative. Right now, of course, there is an unprecedented amount of negativity in news updates. It’s worth having hours where you disconnect from the news. Stick to these hours, for the sake of your mental health. I personally just give myself a few hours each day to catch up on what’s going on around the world—this way I can stay informed without burying my head in the sand, but also disconnect from it all.
Connect with other people as much as possible. This past weekend, I had a few drinks over video chat with a friend I hadn’t spoken to in quite some time. It felt incredible, and we’re planning another call for this coming weekend. Most of us are in the same boat with this crisis. Reach out to a few friends you miss, or haven’t seen in a while, and have a drink or a cup of tea with them over video chat. Better yet, have dinner with someone else—or another couple!—over video chat.
Find one thing to savor every day. Taking time to savor something you enjoy is a surefire way of experiencing more calm. Each day, find one thing in your life to slowly enjoy—whether that’s a cup of herbal tea in the evening, a good book in the morning, or cooking dinner with your family after work.
Treat yourself (in healthy ways). To find a nice way to treat yourself, ask yourself this question: what’s one thing you enjoy doing that brings you enjoyment and contentment? When we reward ourselves, we sometimes indulge in experiences that are instantly gratifying, that aren’t as enjoyable in the long run (like shopping, drinking, or smoking). Turn instead to things that bring you genuine enjoyment, like yoga, a good book, exercise, or socializing with those you love.
Express gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a shortcut to feeling a sense of abundance. Tonight, if you’re with a partner at home, recall three things you’re both grateful for—and continue with this ritual each night afterward. Or, journal about 10 things you’re grateful for, considering why each thing on your list is important to you. Gratitude redirects our attention away from the threats around us, toward what we’re lucky to have and experience.
Spring clean your habits. It’s often during times of great change that it’s easiest for us to change our existing habits and adopt new and better ones. Having to live in self-isolation sucks, there’s no question about it. But it’s also an opportunity to look at your habits, and determine which ones are worth letting go of, or which new ones are worth adopting. Make a list of your habits, and identify which ones are serving you, and which ones aren’t. Now is the time to deeply consider which habits you want to change or adopt in order to live a better life.
Having to live in self-isolation makes investing in our mental health difficult, but not impossible. If you’re like me, and you’re feeling anxious right now, the above strategies will help!