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What can we do about all this anxiety?

It is no surprise that mental health challenges are on the rise. The pandemic, global instability, division and violence in this country, financial insecurity, and the climate crisis are just some of the reasons. 

With all of this going on, it is no wonder that so many of us are struggling. 

According to the US Census Bureau, from January to June 2019, 11% percent of US adults reported symptoms of depression or anxiety. By December 2020, that number had increased to 42%. And experts don’t think we will be getting back to baseline any time soon. 

So how do we counter all of this anxiety? How do we make ourselves feel safer? 

Here are the things I find myself recommending most often:

  • Limit the amount of negative and fear-based media you are consuming. The media likes to focus on how bad and dangerous things are. Media outlets know that fear focuses our attention. Our limbic systems are riveted to the screen so that we can become activated and our threat-detection system is heightened. Focusing on the most frightening aspects, playing the same horrific images over and over creates a sense of urgency and makes us want to keep watching.
  • Find sources of positive news. There are actually a lot of hopeful and inspiring things happening all over the world. Look for articles highlighting acts of compassion, new technologies that address the climate crisis, successes people are having in saving the bees. It really is there if you look for it.
  • Engage in practices that calm the threat-response system. Mindfulness, yoga, and other mind-body practices can be very helpful. One simple exercise that I teach to clients is to place one hand on the heart and one hand on the lower belly (experiment with which hand goes where; one way usually feels “more right” than the other) and breathe slowly and deeply. This is a great way to ground yourself when you are feeling anxious or out of control.
  • Get outside in nature. Taking a walk in the woods, sitting in a park or by a stream, especially if you can directly connect with the earth, has a calming, connecting effect. This can be especially powerful if you open your senses and allow yourself to deeply experience what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. And leave your cell phone at home.
  • Build connections. Developing relationships takes time and effort, but they also provide greater support and connection than relationships that exist primarily in the digital sphere. Find a group that shares your interests. Look around to see who might need a helping hand. Call a friend on the phone instead of emailing or texting. All of these will help you feel more connected.

There is no doubt that we can find plenty to be anxious about in our world, but there is also much that is hopeful. Learning to calm our anxiety and to hold a more balanced perspective will not only improve our mental health but will allow us to respond more appropriately to what is really happening around us.