A high school teen I had not seen before came to our youth group discussion about mental health.
Jacki admitted, “Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. Sometimes it feels like the loudest voice in the room. The only one I can hear.”
“That’s surprising to hear you say that,” replied Ellie. “You’re cool. You have cool friends. You wear cool clothes. You drive a cool car. What do you have to worry about?”
“Everything,” Jacki sighed. “Just like you.”
We often make the mistake of judging others emotional well-being based on what we see. People who need help often look like people who don’t need help.
When you feel overwhelmed by unexpected circumstances, it sometimes feels comforting to focus on what went wrong and to blame whoever is responsible for the wrongness. One of the most important things to do when you feel stressed and anxious is to quiet the chattering voice filled with negative self-talk. For example, relaxation techniques and grounding exercises don’t make problems go away, but they can quiet the mind-chatter that feels so overwhelming and relax us so we can make calm decisions.
“The 54321 grounding technique is simple, yet powerful,” suggests Isabelle Pikorn, Insight Timer Chief Editor. “Like gradually attaching anchors to the boat, this method slowly pulls you back to earth.”
Begin this grounding technique by taking a few deep breaths. Become aware of your surroundings:
- Look For 5 Things You Can See: Notice the wood grain on the desk in front of you. Or the shape of your fingernails. Become aware of the glossy green of the plant in the corner. Take your time to really look and acknowledge what you see.
- Become Aware Of 4 Things You Can Touch: Feel the rough texture of the car seat. Touch your cotton shirt. Notice the sensation of gravity itself or the floor beneath you.
- Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear: Don’t judge, just hear. The distant traffic. Voices in the next room. Pay attention to the space between sounds.
- Notice 2 Things You Can Smell: Coffee? Someone’s perfume? The smell of smoke from a fireplace or meal being prepared? Or become aware of the subtle fragrance of the air around you.
- Become Aware Of 1 Thing You Can Taste: The lingering suggestion of coffee or hot cocoa on your tongue. The taste of salt on your skin.
Mark LoMurray, founder of Sources of Strength, created a youth suicide prevention project designed to encourage help-seeking behaviors and build connections between peers and caring adults. The upstream approach of Sources of Strength aims to build protective factors around youth (and adults) that we can use when we face life’s challenges.
“Our mission is help students and adults turn to their strengths and their supports,” explains LoMurray. “We try to ensure that during the rough times no one gets so overwhelmed or hopeless that they want to give up.”
If you are feeling what LoMurray calls The Big 3 Emotions (sadness, anxiety, or anger), consider tapping into one of these protective factors on the Sources of Strength Wheel:
- Positive Friends – Who can you call if you are feeling stressed or anxious? Who will listen to you if you need to talk? Which friends have a positive influence in your life?
- Family Support– Which family members do you turn to if you need support? What family of origin members and extended family can you turn to? Who is your family of choice?
- Mentors– Who is someone with more experience that offers guidance and wisdom when you need it?
- Healthy Activities – What activities do you enjoy? Sports (or watching sports)? Reading or writing? Running or walking? Are you getting enough sleep? Have you tried practicing yoga or a grounding activity (see above)?
- Generosity– How can you show kindness to someone else? Generosity often lifts us up when we’re feeling down. In what ways can you volunteer to help someone today?
- Spirituality– “Spirit,” comes from the Greek word, “pneuma,” which means “breath.” What breathes life into you when you feel anxious or stressed? Meditation? Prayer? Walking in nature? What makes you feel grateful?
- Physical Health – Are you taking good care of your body? Are you drinking enough water? Dehydrations mimics symptoms of anxiety. Are you getting enough exercise? Taking good care of your physical health is good for your mental health.
- Mental Health – What activities help restore a sense of calm when you feel anxiety or stress? To whom can you turn when you feel anxious or overwhelmed? What mental health resources are available to you if stress or anxiety are interfering with your day-to-day activities?
Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind, maintains, “Find a way to transform your perspective so that obstacles feel like opportunities.” He offers these insightful tips to feel more calm even when life’s challenges make you feel stressed out and anxious:
- Visualize yourself succeeding. Like a professional skier who envisions the act of conquering every obstacle on a course before a race, imagine yourself experiencing the joy of success and positive outcomes. He adds that visualization “can be empowering if it’s a belief in yourself.”
- Imagine the good stuff. Daydreaming about future success lifts your spirits by transferring your mind out of present difficulties into future opportunities.
- Focus on one problem at a time. Reduce the total number of challenges confronting you. Tackle them one at a time. You will feel enormous relief when you are pro-active and start to take action by resolving one specific issue.
- Wait. Remember in all situations: “This, too, shall pass.” You may believe you can predict how future events will turn out, but outcomes you anticipate — especially negative outcomes — often do not turn out the way you thought they would unfold (unless you expect them to).
- Access your creativity to solve problems. Listen to soothing music, meditate, sit in the quiet, take a walk – or doing something different (sing, draw, write a letter, read something enjoyable, etc.). Solutions often bubble up from your unconscious mind when you give it permission to wander and discover answers on its own.
- Ask for help. You don’t have to suffer through life’s challenges all by yourself. Build a support system with people who care about you. Asking for help is courageous.
- Accept responsibility for finding solutions. Mark Twain used a frog as a metaphor for the things you least want to do. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning,” he suggested. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, explains that your most important tasks and priorities are those that can have the most serious consequences, positive or negative, on your life or work.
- Whatever you’re going through represents an opportunity for growth. You cannot predict the future or determine its impact on your life. You can only move forward if you change your perspective and look for the opportunity.
One of the most positive attitude shifting tools you can add to your stress-release toolbox is a grateful heart. When you feel angry or upset by unexpected change, create a gratitude list of all of the blessings in your life that make you feel grateful. An attitude of gratitude positively transforms your outlook (even when you don’t feel particularly grateful).
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more,” explained Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go. “It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
Present circumstances are not permanent. Difficulties and struggle often become the stepping stones needed to get from the uncomfortableness of where you are to where you want to go. Put one foot in front of the other.
Trust your inner voice and your seasoned experiences to show you how to get there.
What will you do the next time YOU feel anxious or stressed?
Create your own positive affirmations with these tips from Put the Positive in Your Affirmation.
Having trouble creating positive self-talk? Learn to Replace Old Tapes with New Messages.
Shift your thinking from lack to abundance with these tips from Escape the Scarcity Mentality Jungle.
Do need help getting from where you’re at to where you want to go? Check out the my personal goal-setting book, Dreams to Action Trailblazer’s Guide. Find free downloads of helpful worksheets in the book.