Five Ways to Release Anxiety and Imagine Better Outcomes

Cairn with a sunset in the background

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” –Deepak Chopra

It’s our third week of social distancing and shelter at home. On family group chats, we joke about changing from our day sweatpants to our night sweatpants and how many jigsaw puzzles we’ve done. Yet while we laugh at our imposed laziness, there is a sense of malaise that cannot be ignored. These are scary times.

Anxiety and Imagination

For better or worse, we humans are blessed with imagination. We can create elaborate realities that pass the time as pleasant daydreams, but just as easily we can imagine scenarios that leave us breathless with fear and anxiety.

As the news about coronavirus becomes more grim, and as we realize the ramifications of no work, few face-to-face social interactions, and the possibility of serious illness, it is easy to see why so many imagine the worst and become anxious these days.

Imagine a Better Outcome

But we don’t have to do this. Imagination used in its best form can create a reality that is much more hopeful and optimistic. Here are five ways to release the anxiety and tap into a more positive use of imagination:

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety hits. Focus on feeling your breath entering and nourishing your body and spirit. If you can’t control your breathing, try using a breathing or meditation app to help you visually regulate inhaling and exhaling. Practice it regularly, and use this time to imagine the feeling of being safe and loved. When I was young and feeling anxious, I used to imagine myself sleeping in the palm of God’s hand – totally cared for and safe. That image is one that stays with me now.
  2. Take stock of what you have and be grateful. Whenever I feel anxious about money or my future, I remind myself that the universe is an abundant place with plenty for everyone. I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. For today, I have everything I need (and most of what I want). Acknowledging this, and being grateful for it, relaxes my mind and allows me to imagine abundance rather than lack.
  3. Put things in order. An anxious mind is is cluttered with scary images and fears, and this disorder is often reflected in the space around you. To regain control of your mind, take back control of your space. Make the bed, put something back where it belongs, clean out a small drawer, or organize a shelf. These small acts of physical order can help put a mind at ease and free up mental space for positive imagination to work.
  4. Go outside. Set aside an hour to walk or go for a run in nature. Work in the garden, rake up dead grass (the order thing again), or plant a garden. Fresh air and activity do wonders to clear negative energy and help you imagine new possibilities. It is hard to feel anxious when the sun is on your face and birds are singing around you.
  5. Create a vision board. Once you have calmed your mind, creating a vision board is a fun way to use your imagination to design a better outcome to whatever the situation. Use old magazines and a notebook or one of the vision board apps that are available and collect images of the outcomes you desire. The pictures should reflect not just the things you want, but the feelings that are invoked when you think of your ideal outcome. Keep it fluid and update it often to start using your imagination more productively.

Imagination is a wonderful tool to help us create and escape the everyday. But when we imagine the worst that can happen, anxiety is the result. These days of isolation and uncertainty are scary. By harnessing the imagination, we can release our anxiety and create new possibilities for the future.

Six Silver Linings to Social Distancing

As we near the end of the second week of social isolation, news of the spread of coronavirus is worsening, and social distancing has become the new standard. It is daunting to realize that nobody knows when we will return to our normal lives, or even how “normal” our lives will be when this is all over.

But in the midst of all these changes and the onslaught of bad news, there are some silver linings to the enforced social distancing and self-isolation so necessary for staying healthy and helping others to do the same. Here are six good things that are happening right now:

More Family Time

When families with young children or teens would normally be going in several directions at once, as I walk around my neighborhood, I see whole families – both parents and all the kids – out walking, throwing a football, jogging, or playing their own special games. I hope this lasts after social distancing ends.

Positive Messages

The children in my neighborhood have been writing wonderful and encouraging messages on the sidewalks! Yesterday, while walking the dog, I saw all of these: “You’re outside!” “Isn’t fresh air great?” “You’ve got this!” “Keep smiling!” “We’re all together in this.” “Looking good!” and many others. These messages make me smile every time and kudos to the parents who are encouraging their children to help in this way.

Creativity

Parents in our town have gotten very creative in entertaining their little ones. Each week they do a craft project with their kids – something that can be hung in the window, like shamrocks or silly faces – and then do a scavenger hunt as they walk to find as many displays as they can. The more we have had to stay apart, the more creative people have gotten in finding ways to connect with each other, reminding all of us of what is truly important.

Time to Do Overdue Projects

Without commutes, sports and activities, the gym, and social gatherings, all of a sudden, cleaning out the closet, or finishing a craft project started two years ago seems like a good idea. There is a strong sense of accomplishment in finally taking the time to finish things on the to-do list!

Learning New Technology

In the last two weeks, I have participated in a book club meeting on Zoom, several virtual family gatherings on Google Hangouts, and most recently, quick video chatting on Marco Polo – an app I had never heard of but know I will enjoy because I can stay in closer touch with my daughters. I am so grateful that we have the technology to connect virtually when we can’t do it in person.

More Frequent Connection with Friends and Family

With more time on our hands and concern for family and friends, people seem to be reaching out more frequently. In the last few days, I’ve chatted with former students, old friends, and family members with whom under normal circumstances, I would talk to maybe once every few months. We all have asked why we don’t do this more often, and I hope when this is over, we will.

The important thing is to stay healthy during this time, and the best way to do that is stay home and self-isolate as much as possible. But social distancing has its advantages, and with luck you are experiencing these benefits as well. How are you making the best of your stay-at-home situation?

Build Your Immune System Naturally

Bowls of yogurt topped with fruit demonstrate a healthy diet.

In addition to social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, simple changes in diet can help boost your immune system and keep you as healthy as possible. Obviously if you are feeling ill, you should consult a medical professional. But if you are feeling OK and just want to be more prepared to fight any virus, there are natural ways to help boost your immune system:

Apple Cider Vinegar

Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and drink this blend once or twice each day. According to some health professionals and a lot of “old wives’ tales”, apple cider vinegar may change the pH balance of the body, making it less welcoming to viruses. While the research is inconclusive, I know that if I feel like I am fighting something, and I drink diluted apple cider vinegar, I feel better and usually avoid getting whatever is trying to make me sick. Be sure to drink it diluted, though, as otherwise it can harm your teeth.

Honey

Honey is an immune-building powerhouse, full of antioxidants and antibacterial and antifungal properties. According to experts, raw honey is better because it hasn’t been pasteurized, which destroys some of the phytonutrients. One caveat, however: you should never give honey to a baby (under 24 months) because of the risk of botulism. But for older children and adults, honey can boost the immune system, help with sore throats and healing wounds, and ease digestive problems. Add a tablespoon to the diluted apple cider vinegar for daily support.

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic provide more than just good flavor to your dishes. They are filled with phytonutrients that boost the immune system. Like honey, they have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and they also are great for your cardiovascular system. Onions also have a gentle antihistamine effect when you have a cold. Add them liberally to whatever you are cooking!

Ginger

Ginger is another flavorful ingredient that does more than make food delicious. It has anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that can help soothe digestive issues and sore throats. Experts believe that its antimicrobial properties can also help ward off bacterial or viral infections. Make ginger tea by cutting small chunks or shavings of ginger root and boiling them in water to your desired strength. Add honey for an extra boost!

Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

While all vegetables are good for you and contain phytonutrients that work with your immune system, dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, Swiss chard and kale, deserve a special mention. They are loaded with vitamin C, folate and other antioxidants that ward off infection and support a strong immune system. Saute these veggies with oil and garlic, add them to soups or salads, or use them as the base of a smoothie to make them a regular part of your daily diet.

Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.) are a great source of vitamin C, which can help keep you healthy during cold and flu season. Experts agree that they also are a healthy source of fiber and potassium, and that they can help keep your body hydrated. Eat them fresh or drink their freshly-squeezed juice, and add them to salads to help keep your immune system strong.

The best medicine is and always has been a healthy diet. During these uncertain times, the only thing we can do is try to keep our bodies as strong as possible, so that we have the best chance of avoiding critical illness. Use these tried-but-true methods to ensure your immune system has as much support as possible.