• Dr. Anna, PT

Five Healthy Coping Strategies to Calm Yourself


Getting outside can calm the part of the brain responsible for ruminating on worrying thoughts.

I haven't written in a while and I will admit to you why: I feel overwhelmed with the state of the world at this moment. I've been thinking of what subject you, the consumer, may want to read about but somehow it all seems so trivial.

I am a true Libra in almost every sense of the word, and one characteristic of people with this astrological sign is the desire for equanimity in life. The turmoil in society coupled with the still rising spread of the virus; the politically callus remarks on social media; the injustice many of our fellow citizens experience and their cries to be heard-- these all lead to unsettled, uneasy feelings in me to say the least. It makes me feel sad. I want to help but don't know how. I feel like I'm in a snow globe: my world is being shook up and I feel I can do nothing but watch the particles fall around me. I share this because I have a feeling I'm not alone. I have noticed I have a tendency to "zone out" to numb the feelings. My mechanism is to scroll through Facebook more than I'd like to admit, or to constantly check my phone to see if there's a message from a friend to calm my nerves. The irony is those behaviors are actually rather unnerving. Screen time has been shown to lead to poorer mental well-being, including higher levels of anxiety, depression, and even less curiosity. Have you noticed some feeling-avoidant behaviors in yourself? Don't worry....there's no shame in it. We're all trying to do our best to cope. But here's the thing: I challenge myself and you. Let's try to find healthier ways to cope.

I've been kicking ideas around for a while on what these healthier ways could look like and here are five I've come up with: 1. Stay present with feelings. I do think that the more present I am with my feelings, the richer my world is. Is it always comfortable? No. Is it always easy? Absolutely not. By being present, what if the experience of each moment becomes deeper, more tangible, and more colorful even in times of pain, turmoil, and upheaval? It sounds challenging to me but also like a more rewarding way to be. And with that can also come greater awareness of how to act, speak, and make decisions. By being present with feelings, I mean observe them. Witness what sensations or thoughts the feelings bring up, and just observe and allow them to be instead of pushing them away. Often, the sensations may pass more quickly than if you go into a headspace and continue ruminating on the issue.

2. Breathe.

Perform each "side of the box" for 4 seconds.

Yes, it sounds simple, but intentional, deep breathing really can calm the nervous system and help cultivate a feeling of being more grounded. My go-to breathing technique right now to help me calm is what I call the "box breathing." Breathe in for a count of 4, hold in for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold out for a count of four. Repeat for as long as you need to focus attention, ground your nerves, or fall asleep. In your mind's eye, follow the breath in the form of a box to keep the mind tethered from wandering. I've tried it when restless in bed at night

and this truly does work.

3. Put down the electronics.


This refers back to the earlier paragraph that states that screen time negatively impacts our mental state. Regardless of whether it's a phone, tablet, or the television, we're often zoning out when we're plugged in, and the effects can be harmful. Is it uncomfortable to find something else to do besides stare at your phone? Be curious about that! What is that about? Also, know that you ARE a whole human being without an electronic device. When it's uncomfortable for me to not pick up my phone, as I sometimes challenge myself to do, I remind myself that I can likely be spending my time in much more productive, enriching ways. It's my job to figure out what that is.


4. Take a social media break.


It's sort of a spin-off from putting down the electronics, yet this IS different. As I've admitted, I do my fair share of Facebook scrolling when I have 10 spare minutes. And you know what I so often experience? Regret once I've done that. The ever-abundant negativity of bashing opposing views and political drama can negatively impact my mood, and even the mind-numbing scrolling through randomness is seemingly benign but always leaves me feeling empty afterward. How unhealthy does that sound? Yikes. If you can't take a break from electronics altogether, at least give this a try and see if it changes your day.


5. Get outside.


This is a natural option if we aren't looking at screens or posting selfies. The beauty of the outdoors calms brain activity that is responsible for worry and negative thoughts and it reduces depression, according to this article published by Harvard Medical School. And don't fret if you can't get outside or if you live in an urban area where nature-seeking is more of a challenge: even listening to nature sounds causes a similar effect. Sometimes when I don't know what else to do, I make myself go outside for a walk. Even a 10 minute jaunt can push a reset button and ease my worrying. (Plus I'm getting exercise to boot!) Calming the mind, staving off depression, and being outside? Yes, please.


My Bonus strategy when all else fails is to always revert to gratitude. No matter what's going on in the world, there's always something to be grateful for and if we focus on that, the lenses may seem just a little more rosy.


I am by no means perfect. As I've shared here, I have my own challenges just like the next person, and I certainly don't do all of these techniques all of the time. But I try. And when I don't succeed to my liking, I tell myself it's ok and I try again. It's like I tell my patients: my job is to provide tools for the proverbial tool kit so that you can succeed. That's what I hope I'm offering you here.


The next time you need some grounding, calming energy in your life, give these tricks a try. I hope you can find solace in at least one of them.


P.S. If there is a topic of wellness or pain-relief you would like to know about, please leave a comment or send Mountains & Motion a message. I would love to explore a topic you're interested in.


#HealthyCoping #KeepCalmAndCarryOn #Gratitude

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