After a year of working with clients around pandemic-related uncertainty and anxiety, I am sharing my top tips for coping with anxiety during seasonal transitions. By the end of this blog post, you will have 7 tips for coping with springtime anxiety (during a global pandemic).
Spring is finally in the air! So, why do you feel so anxious?
After a long winter, the signs of spring can feel like a fresh start. The days are longer, the temperature is warmer, and the flowers add a splash of color even to the rainy days. Yet, you wonder why you can't shake that sense of uneasiness.
Spring is a time of transition and transformation. Essentially, it is a time of rapid change, after a time of stagnation and slowing down. We, as human beings, struggle with change. It brings uncertainty and activates the nervous system.
While the increase in sunlight can create an increase in energy that can feel liberating, the expectation to suddenly be doing more can feel overwhelming. For many, there is a long list of "shoulds" that crop up in the spring. Whether it's "I should be doing spring cleaning", "I should be getting outside", "I should be socializing more", or "I should feel happy now, spring is here", the shoulds can keep you feeling like you are lacking, and not doing enough.
And this spring is particularly challenging because we are in the middle of a global pandemic. For many, this spring marks the one-year anniversary of the first rollout of restrictions to protect us from COVID-19. So, while it might trigger those memories of the initial fear and shock of the beginning of the pandemic, it may also bring up fear and uncertainty about what your future will hold.
Depending on where you live, you might be amping up for a lifting of restrictions and a "return to normal", or you might be looking at another surge of closures and work from home orders. More changes. More uncertainty. Either way, there is that lingering fear about the safety of our loved ones, and the question of "when will I be able to bring lightness and joy into our lives again?".
No wonder you are feeling anxious and uneasy! Your poor nervous system has been through the wringer this year, and more change and uncertainty are coming! So, let's look at how you can help your nervous system out and ease into spring with gentleness.
(Not sure if what you are experiencing is anxiety? You can check out some common symptoms of anxiety here).
7 Tips to Help You Cope with Spring Time Anxiety
.... during a global pandemic.
1. Ease into action
If you are noticing an increase in energy this season, GREAT! That is wonderful.
And you still require rest and relaxation.
Instead of trying to jump into action, see if you can ease into it. Allow yourself downtime. It is okay to continue with some of those quieter, indoor activities you enjoy in the winter during the spring.
2. Stay in the present moment
Your mind may want to start predicting, preparing, or planning for what is going to happen next, and how you will cope with the upcoming changes in restrictions and weather. You do not need to follow this train of thought.
While worrying about the future is often an attempt to help us feel safer, it can increase anxiety. This is because we have no control over the future. What we can control is right here, right now.
Do what you can to stay in the present moment. When you notice your mind is focused on the future, bring yourself back to today. You can ground yourself by stating the date, time, and your location, to yourself. Notice some things that you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
Whenever you notice an increase in anxiety or uneasiness, pause and take a few full, deep breaths. Be sure to breathe all the way deep into the belly, and exhale completely.
Quick, shallow breathing (breathing into your chest) simulates the fight/flight response and can increase anxiety or a sense of panic.
Slow, deep breathing signals to the nervous system that we are safe and it is okay to rest, relax and rejuvenate. Breathing into the belly activates the relaxation response, which allows us to feel calm and settled.
4. Name and externalize fear thoughts
So, those pesky thoughts about the future keep popping up despite your best efforts to stay in the present moment?
Name them for what they are, fear thoughts. Your brain is trying to protect you and warn against danger. By naming the thought, you can externalize it, observe it and decide if it is a helpful thought or not. Preventing yourself from going down the rabbit hole with those thoughts, makes it easier to refocus on the present moment and enjoy right now.
When we fight with fear thoughts or push them away, they often come back stronger. So, when you are noticing these thoughts, see if you can reflect on them non-judgementally, or even with kindness.
5. Practice self-kindness
When you are feeling anxious, afraid, or uneasy, how do you speak to yourself? Is your tone harsh? Do you expect yourself to "just get over it?" Being hard on ourselves for feeling anxious often increases the intensity of the feeling (you know... that feeling of being anxious about feeling anxious).
Try placing a hand over your heart, and acknowledging that feeling anxious is a type of suffering. It's not easy to feel anxious and afraid. And it is a part of being human. Remind yourself that this feeling will pass and that you are doing the best that you can.
Gentle, supportive touch, such as placing a hand on your heart or giving yourself a little hug, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which provides a sense of security, soothes distressing emotions, and calms cardiovascular stress. It might feel awkward at first, but your body doesn't know that. It just responds to the physical gesture of warmth and care
6. Talk to a professional
If you are struggling, it is okay to reach out for help. It has been a challenging year! For some, the circumstances have intensified existing mental health issues, while others are noticing mental health challenges for the first time. You do not need to go through this alone.
If you want to go the route of a private therapist, you can look through Psychology Today to find someone who is the right fit for you. Many people find counseling helpful during this time of the year.
7. Use your intention for the year to prioritize your to-do list
If your to-do list, or list of "shoulds" is growing, take some time to prioritize it. You can only do so much, so it is important to make sure your spring goals are realistic for where you are at right now, and that they align with your values.
If you have picked an intention or word for the year, take some time to reflect on it and how it aligns with your spring to-do list. Take some time to journal and reflect using the Journal Prompts below.
(If you have not yet picked an intention for 2021, take some time to pick one for this season or the rest of the year. If you need some help you could check out this blog post ).
Journal Prompts for Early-Spring:
What does spring represent for you?
What emotions, feelings, and thoughts have you noticed as you transition into spring?
What expectations have you placed on yourself this spring?
How have you responded to these emotions, feelings, and thoughts? Have you Ignored them? Or been harsh with yourself? Kind to yourself?
What was your biggest takeaway or lesson from March-April 2021?
If you set an intention for 2021, how have you been able to embody this intention this month?
Which of your expectations of yourself align with your intention for the year?
How can you come back to your intention and let it guide you as you move into the spring months?
Enter Spring with Care and Intention
You have made it through the winter and the first months of 2021. Spring reminds us that light is defined by darkness. Spring would not be so bright if it were not for the winter that came before it. Be gentle with yourself throughout this change in seasons. Use these tips as they suit you, and adapt them as needed.
Like the spring wildflower, you are resilient and able to bloom in unlikely places. Allow yourself patience and grace as you blossom.
Amy Pinnell, MSW, RSW Brave Spirit Counselling