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?

Naps and Other Gifts We Can Give Ourselves

The gifts we give ourselves have an incredible impact on the quality of our lives. More than what others do, what we do for ourselves gives us more confidence and creative energy each day. And so often, this process begins with the simple permission to enjoy what is already available to us.

Little indulgences can seem like luxuries when we are worn out and frazzled, or when the winter blahs set in. Here are ten fun little things you can do for yourself (really it is OK – permission granted!) just to let you know how special you are:

  1. Take a nap. This is a luxury few of us afford ourselves. But by taking the time to rest a little bit – even 15 or 20 minutes is enough – we regain more productivity later. If you are tired, rest. Your body and mind will thank you.
  2. Practice art. Those of us who are not artists probably do not take time on a regular basis to create. We may secretly wish we could paint, knit, draw, or sew, but have never allowed ourselves to experiment or learn. But each of us is creative and making things – playing with art – can be very freeing. It slows down time and allows us to be in the moment.
  3. Dance a little bit. Nothing puts me in a better mood than to put on some fun music and dance a little. Sounds silly? I am sure that it is, but I feel great afterwards, so who cares? Try the songs you danced to in college! It will bring back some happy memories, too.
  4. Meditate. Meditation is a simple act that can calm your mind and spirit and help you let go of worries. If you are not a practitioner, simply sit comfortably, close your eyes and relax. I often picture myself next to a river. As worrisome thoughts come, I gently catch them, place them in the river and watch them float upstream.
  5. Listen to a story. My new go-to when I have chores to do is to listen to a story. We forget as adults how fun it is to be read to! I use Audible, but most libraries also have systems for downloading audio books for free. Cleaning and doing laundry will never be the same!
  6. Go on a treasure hunt. A special treat is to go to an antique or resale shop just to browse for “treasure”. I set a dollar limit and make a short game of it, seeing what special something I can find for that amount. If I don’t want to spend, I simply browse, looking for ideas. Either way, it is fun!
  7. Enjoy a mini-facial. It doesn’t take much to feel pampered. With clean skin, pour hot water and a drop or two of essential oil in a bowl and place a towel over your head to trap the steam. Let your face steam a bit and cleanse and moisturize. You’ll look and feel refreshed!
  8. Watch a foreign movie. Why a foreign movie? Foreign films often offer an entirely different perspective on life, as well as a glimpse of other cultures that can refresh your way of thinking. Think of it as a mini-vacation.
  9. Go for a walk. A walk as short as around the block or as long as on a trail in the nearest forest preserve can do wonders! Fresh air, movement, and time to think is always a luxury.
  10. Write in a gratitude journal. Only have a minute? Use that minute to count your blessings. A gratitude journal can be as detailed or as simple as you like. I like to write five things for which I am grateful at the end of each day, and it always makes me feel content.