Anxiety... The New Normal?

Stepping Off the Anxiety Roller Coaster

Reflecting on the year as these last weeks of the calendar drift in, the old adage about living in “interesting times” feels like it has taken on new meaning. These days, we are living in “anxious and uncertain times.” Even as restrictions have relaxed, incidence of anxiety and depression haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.   

Individually and collectively, we continue to grapple with what has been coined “pandemic flux syndrome,”- the mental and emotional highs and lows of coping with circumstances we can’t easily control or predict. And because emotions spread from person to person - a concept known as social contagion - it’s especially easy to catch the emotional colds and flu of those around us.    

Without having some strategies to cultivate an inner sense of stability, we remain subject to life’s unpredictable twists and turns, worn out by the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions that accompany them.

This month, we’d like to feature several of our courses that untangle the roots of anxiety. While mindfulness is not therapy or a magic wand that removes problems and challenges, our courses guide participants to learn and grow a deep well of science-driven tools and resources they can draw upon to support their well-being.   
For example, in Your Stress Response , we focus on how to recognize the body’s common responses to stress and zero in on your particular triggers. Rather than staying perpetually locked in feelings of overwhelm or unwittingly driven by our automatic flight, or freeze reactions, we introduce mindfulness-based strategies to manage stress with intentionality. 
Compassion for Yourself introduces the role of self-compassion in calming our stress response. Many of us are good at taking care of and supporting others, but in the face of our own difficulties and anxieties, it can be hard to remember that we are not alone, that we're doing our best, and that we are loved. In this session we introduce how to shift our internal dialogue and acquire strategies to cultivate an inner ally as a source of comfort and strength.
In Approaching the Difficult, we examine how the tools of mindful awareness can help us increase and access a sense of resilience amidst life’s adversities. Using the acronym and practice of ACE, we will experience how to approach challenging emotions with Awareness, Compassion, and a willingness to Explore.   
Finally, in Emotions and the Body, we explore an often overlooked key to navigating the felt sense of challenging emotions. Through practices like Progressive Relaxation, Identifying Your Stress Profile, and the Body Scan, we learn to tune into the felt sense of the body to understand its cues. By the end of the session, participants will have acquired the tools to notice emotions as they arise and name them to tame them - learning to ride the waves of emotions rather than becoming entangled with them. 
By learning and practicing short moments of mindfulness throughout the day, our courses help participants build good “mental immunity” during anxious and uncertain times.   

Returning to the Body's Wisdom in Stressful Times

Progressive Relaxation Practice

Have you ever watched a child rub a favorite blankie or cuddle a familiar stuffed toy? Absorbed in the present moment, children seem to inherently know that using their sense of touch is one effective way to calm and soothe themselves. As we grow older, we spend more and more time in our heads, disconnected from our bodies as a source of wisdom and resilience. 
Over the past several decades, there have been tremendous advances in our collective understanding of the connection between our emotions and the body. Sort of like having our own personal internal radar, our body is continually taking cues from our environment and internal state in the form of physical sensations. Think of, for example, the sensation of having butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or the impulse to literally jump for joy.   

While our bodies experience a vast array of physical sensations tied to our emotions, research has primarily explored the effects of negative emotions and stress on the body. Stress and tension live in the body. So often, amidst life’s demands, we push through our days and weeks - ignoring our body’s internal radar system - surviving on adrenaline. We may only notice the accumulation of our stressors until they’ve taken up residence in the body as fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and other physical manifestations.   
Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation bring awareness to our bodies and where we hold stress. Other benefits are that we can get better at noticing when we are holding tension in order to more purposefully release it. By paying attention to our body’s cues, we can learn to tune into our emotions and how stress impacts our bodies. It’s never too late to start!   
"I never realized how powerful it is to recognize the signs my body is trying to tell me until learning about the felt sense. It makes so much sense now, the reactions my body has and what they mean. Just slowing down and identifying what my body is doing really does make a difference. I have spent years struggling with anxiety and this exercise has given me a new super-power to take back control." 
- Nicole Anderson, Lead Housing Cases Manager