It took the world coming to a standstill for me notice I had been using activities, work and other distractions to not fully be aware of my stress and anxiety. It has been a very interesting year, one where we were having to rethink how we have lived with stress and always being on the go as a way to not actually feel the stress and anxiety within.
Words like ‘I am stressed at work or home’ or ‘travelling or trips or holidays can be stressful’, although last year, when it seemed like being still during the pandemic would be a time for some to reflect and rest, it was reported to be very stressful and talks of stress and anxiety were on the increase according to the NHS as other concerns arose (i.e. redundancies, money, separation from families, death and so on).
The lockdown was a confusing time, as it was seen as a time to catchup on favourite books, learn new skills, develop new business, and for those who still had to work or study, a different way of doing things. Not “levelling up”, working out, or being entrepreneurial, was seeing as wasting the quiet period we were in. I had already made a list of the things I need to do in other to be productive, creative and not waste the furlough I was on. Then came the murder of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and the cry for social justice around the world.
There are already lots of issues around racism for POC, whether full on in your face racism or the micro-aggressions that I, as a black person, am well aware of and had my experiences of it, which adds to the daily stress of life. The constant images and videos of killings, or worrying about my family around the world, being stuck indoors, the thoughts of me not being productive, not learning new skills, or not being entrepreneurial, left me feeling constantly stressed and anxious. All of these emotions brought me back fully into my yoga and meditation practice, which I had been doing on and off, for over 6 years.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness has been shown to help lower the fight- or-flight mode that stress brings on. I practiced tuning into my breath, inhaling and exhaling deep and slow, to calm down the fight-or-flight part of the brain. The joy and contentment I slowly started to feel, by bringing awareness to my breath helped me to deal with the societal expectations and understanding that it is ok not to be ok, acknowledging that it is ok to feel sad and empathy, not always strong, not always productive or creative.
My journey on this path is not at its end but an ongoing process of giving myself permission to sit and journal as an outlet. Mindfulness practice and being realistic with expectation I have of myself, also recognising that I am the expert on me, has helped lower my stress and anxiety considerably.
What I do when I feel stressed or anxious and you might find useful, it is in no way a quick fix but a step in becoming comfortable within:
• I found that sitting for even 10 minutes a day in mindful practice, as I have found with this group of friends offering free breath led meditation (www.slowe.yoga/breathe).
• Practice self-care in the manner that serves you, be it journaling, lighting scented candles, taking a bath.
• Knowing it is OK to ask for help when needed, either from your GP, NHS, MIND, therapist or your local helpline.
• Switching off of social media every so often.