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Is it possible to reduce anxiety with two simple steps? Yes, but it won’t solve all of your problems. Finding and implementing small changes to your day can be really helpful, especially if you are dealing with a very difficult situation.
Creating structure and reducing anxiety in challenging times is not only difficult, but can seem next to impossible. Not knowing what the future will look like in terms of work and school has thrown my normal well-grounded self into a bit of a tailspin. With my anxiety hitting an all-time high, I knew that changes needed to be made to help guide me through, what might be, more challenging months ahead.
To help combat the chaos, I have incorporated two very simple steps into my day to help create structure and reduce anxiety during this very challenging stay at home order.
Zoom call with an old friend.
My beautiful college friend Amber has been hosting a daily guided relaxation meditation since the facility that she worked for closed due to COVID-19. It’s a simple 15-20 minute guided meditation that I all but forgot about until she texted me about intermittent fasting last week. I attended one session at the start of the stay at home order, but like many “best intentions” quarantine ideas, it fell off my radar.
After one of Amber’s sessions, I stayed on the zoom call to talk to her for a while. I mean, it’s been over 20 years since we spoke, so it was fun to see what she’s been up to since graduation! But, in all that talk about the past, college, family, and how we were managing the stay at home orders, there was one idea that Amber mentioned about her guided meditations that stood out to me.
She said that by offering and teaching these sessions (two in the morning, and one at night) she was creating the perfect “bookends” to her day.
So, while the chaos of her day still existed, she had a very structured beginning and a very structured end to her day, every day.
This got me thinking…
- What are my bookends? Do I even have bookends?
- And, how am I functioning in between my would be bookends? What can I do to help manage that chaos?
Step One: Creating my bookends.
For the first several weeks of quarantine I had no bookends. There was no structure to my day at all. We were dealt a crazy hand very quickly, and with little to no guidance on how to maintain that hand, insanity shortly ensued. In an effort to combat my daily chaos and to reduce anxiety, I took a cue from Amber and started to come up with ideas to create my own bookends.
My morning bookend.
Coffee, emails, and alone time before the kids wake up. This set of very small tasks now constitute my morning bookend.
I’m usually the first person to wake up in the morning, and very much like pre-quarantine days, I get up, make my coffee, check work emails, balance the checking account, and then wake the kids. The only difference here is that I’m not waking up at 5:30 am, working out, showering, and then doing all the rest as listed above, but it’s still pretty darn close. This is the perfect morning bookend for me because this is as close to my “usual routine” as I can get right now.
My evening bookend.
Amber’s nightly guided meditation! I can’t believe I forgot about it for all those weeks in the beginning of quarantine! I mean, if this is not the best way to reduce anxiety and have the best finish to your day, I don’t know what is!
Her nighttime meditation takes place at 8:30 pm (perfectly timed). A few minutes before she starts, I head downstairs to our little workout room, light a few candles, turn out the light, and participate in total relaxation for 15-20 minutes. It is so lovely.
This current bookend is not close to my usual nighttime bookend and that’s just fine for me. To be honest, even as I transition back to work, I’d like to maintain this daily guided meditation. Let’s hope Amber feels the same! (No pressure, Amber!)
Step two: Plan the chaos in between.
Let’s take this “bookend” idea a few steps further. Now let’s say those books in between our bookends represent the chaos. And, how do writers organize that chaos? By breaking their ideas down into chapters. So, let’s take a minute to determine what chapters we can create to help organize our crazy. We don’t have to write an epic novel, but I think a beginner chapter book will do just fine.
The Book: Get up and get out!
The main book that keeps falling off our bookshelf is titled “Get up and Get out!”. It’s about getting off your duff, getting out of your chair, and resetting your mind!
Chapter 1: Small walks.
Chapter 1 is all bout the little things you can do to prevent your joints from rusting up. Think about what you used to do before this crazy time and find a way to mimic that benefit at home. The main character in this book (me) aims to get up and walk around several times a day even if it’s a few laps inside the house (walking our dogs has been great for this).
In my office at work, I would strive to get up every once in a while to get the blood flowing in my body. Sitting and staring at my screen for hours on end would cause stiffness in my joints, neck, and lower back, so a little walk around campus would do me good. I mean, my block is not the same as a big beautiful campus, but whatever! Just get off your duff for a few minutes a day and get the blood flowing!
Chapter 2: Get the kids out of the house!
Chapter 2 is all about the massive effort it takes to get your angsty teen and tween children to breath unrecycled bedroom air. The goal is to get the kids out of the house so they can get some fresh air and sunshine during the shutdown.
With no P.E., walks to the bus or school, no after school activities, and no way to reduce their anxieties, it’s become all too easy for the kids to sit in front of the TV, their computer screens and their phones and do nothing but watch…stuff. We
threaten make the kids get off their screens a few times a day to get outside for some fresh air and some good old vitamin D. Again, walking our dogs has been really good for this!
Chapter 3: Car-Dee-ooohhhh!
Chapter 3 is all about sweating. Sweating is good for the soul, didn’t you know? (I don’t really know, I just made that up, but it sounds right!)
I know I said that just moving a little is enough, but raising your heart rate for even a short period of time will do wonders for your mental and physical health! I don’t think it’s necessary to do intense cardio all the time, but getting in a brisk walk, a short run or some workout DVDs might just be what you need to reduce stress and help better prepare you for your day.
Chapter 4: Meditate!
Chapter 4 is all about sitting the eff down, taking some “me” time, and relaxing. I can’t overstate this enough. Take a few moments for yourself, a few quiet moments, and meditate.
I started participating in some short meditations before the break to help me with the final moments of my longer fasts, but I have stepped it up a notch over the past few weeks as my anxiety levels have started to rise. Daily, I participate in Amber’s nighttime meditation, as well as, some short meditation and restorative yoga sessions on my Peloton App.
I felt so great after each one of these sessions that I just ordered some yoga blankets, a yoga bolster and an acupressure mat to help take my meditative and restorative practices even further! I’m hoping to continue to incorporate these practices even when we start the transition back to office life.
Want to meditate at home? The Peloton App is free for the first 30 days and is only $12.99/month after that. There is no peloton bike or tread equipment purchase required. While I do own the bike, I use the App for meditation, yoga, resistance training, running (outside and on my own treadmill), and more! Don’t’ want to pay, check out this list of free meditation apps!
Note: This is the acupressure mat that I just ordered. The reviews call it a “torture device”. I guess, if I can last longer than 3 minutes on this mat, I’ll experience a significant reduction in muscle tension? I’ll let you know what happens! It looks pretty, though!!
Last Chapter: Be open to all options and give yourself a break!
If my options aren’t options for you, then make your own! It’s your story! I think, in call cases, it’s important to just get up, move and take some time for yourself in an effort to help ground your already crazy day!
Look, we’re in a crazy, funky, weird time. I think it’s just fine to veg and give ourselves a break, but for mental health and wellness, we need to take at least a little action to keep ourselves healthy and sane.
So, how will you write your story to help promote mental and physical wellness during this crazy insane time?
If I had to guess, this won’t be the only crazy time in our lives. With each passing milestone or decade, we face new challenges and with those new challenges we need to make adjustments and find a way to create some sort of calm in the chaos to come. We may not face these challenges together, like we are now, but if we can use this time to establish practices to help get us through, we might just be a little bit more prepared for our next stress-inducing adventure. So, create your bookends, plan your chapters, and take those crazy days head-on!