Our day-to-day lives have always been full of stresses and pressures, from difficulties at work to family squabbles. And these days, when all you have to do is open your email to find another dozen “we’re all in this together!” emails from your bank, it’s easier than ever to find yourself in a bad spiral. So we caught up with Katie Wolf, a certified mindfulness and meditation teacher, to teach us some good strategies to calm down when we’re just, you know, starting to lose it.
1. Get grounded
One good strategy for when you’re feeling panic-y: ground yourself in your physical body. “First, look down at your feet. Notice where they make contact with the floor,” Wolf says. “Notice your lungs breathing without you having to do anything. Your body is supporting you right now.” Bringing your awareness back to your body helps bring you out of your head—and into the present moment.
“If you have young kids who can’t seem to leave you alone, you might only get sixty seconds, but use those sixty seconds to do some deep breathing. People I work with often have an idea in their heads of what meditation is: thirty minutes of sitting in total silence on a meditation cushion. That’s great, but it’s not practical for most people,” Wolf says. “If you only have one or two minutes, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Feel your chest rising and falling, your belly expanding and contracting. Just keep bringing your awareness back to your breath.”
2. Try multi-tasking meditation (yes it is possible)
“An option for people who don’t have the luxury of thirty-minute meditation sessions is practicing mindfulness while doing other tasks,” Wolf says, explaining that “mindfulness” really just means being non-judgmental and present in the moment, so it can be practiced while doing basically any activity: walking, eating, even dishwashing.
Let’s take dishwashing one as an example, because otherwise, this is an activity that is really deeply, profoundly boring, right? Instead of letting its monotony annoy you, however, you can instead focus completely on the act itself, rather than everything else that can clog your brain up. “Notice the feel of the warm water, the smell of the soap, the sound of the running water,” Wolf says. “If your mind wanders while doing this—which it probably will—just gently guide it back to the activity you’re currently doing.”
3. Make a phone call
This one might sound unusual for a meditation practice, but go with us on this: you can practice mindfulness while on the phone by really listening to what the other person is saying and being present for the conversation.
“We spend so much of our time up in our heads stuck on a hamster wheel of anxious thoughts, so one way to help get us out of that is to simply call someone else. I always suggest calling rather than texting, because there’s something about holding a conversation that has the ability to take our minds off the anxious thoughts,” Wolf says. “Call someone and ask how they’re doing. They’ll probably be grateful to hear from you. And now, more than ever, we need connection with other people.”
4. Show some gratitude
Ok, so this might sound like a really annoying thing to do, but if you can get into the habit it actually starts to feel pretty great: take time in the morning to write down five things you’re grateful for that day. “Big things—like your partner or your job—are great, but try practicing gratitude for small things specific to that day,” Wolf says. “For example, maybe you noticed a beautiful rosebush on your morning walk. Maybe it’s the new coffee creamer you bought at the grocery story last week. If journaling seems like too much work, you can think of three things you’re grateful for before you go to bed at night. It can be done in thirty seconds or less, and it’s a good way to review the day.” This practice can help keep you centered when the rest of the world feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
5. Offer some love
For city-dwellers especially, sirens are one of the most omnipresent reminders of how serious this pandemic is, so it makes sense to feel anxious or stressed when you hear them. Wolf offers an empathy-based strategy that can really help anyone who gets especially stressed: sending a wish of loving kindness to whoever is in the ambulance. “This doesn’t have to be something formal or religious, like a prayer. Instead, just send general good wishes to anyone suffering right now,” she says.