As it began to sink in that we were entering crisis mode some weeks ago, the uptick in anxiety in New York City where I live was palpable. It was on the news. I felt it in others. Then I felt it in myself. In this very challenging time, taking care of our physical and emotional well-being at the same time can be of benefit to everyone.
My favorite approach to meeting anxiety is the path of friendliness. I imagine how a good friend—a dear friend—might be there for me in a moment of struggle. And I try to offer that kind of friendship to myself.
A good friend doesn’t judge. When facing anxiety, especially in an obviously challenging time, it’s helpful to acknowledge that the feeling is normal. There’s nothing wrong with you for having anxiety and you don’t need to get rid of it. Period.
A good friend pays attention. Instead of ruminating on stressful thoughts or trying to solve anything, bring a gentle curiosity to what the anxiety feels like in your body. Maybe there’s heat in your chest or tension in your shoulders or icky feelings in your stomach. Try to acknowledge it in a matter-of-fact way: “Ah, this is anxiety.” Bringing a gentle, curious attention to a difficult experience was a game changer for me when I first learned it, and it’s still an invaluable part of my toolbox.
A good friend helps you feel relaxed. Be a good friend to your body by allowing it to be more at ease. Let your breathing slow down and deepen just slightly. Then imagine feeling these relaxed breaths throughout the whole body. Without forcing, let each part from head to toe relax and settle as much as it can.
A good friend is compassionate. Speak to yourself from a place of real understanding and friendliness. Sometimes I’ll say, “Hello my dear Chris. I know this is a hard moment. You’re doing your best. This anxiety is normal and understandable. I know you’re worried about your family and the world. May you be happy, free, and peaceful.” Use whatever words feel meaningful to you to practice self-compassion. Then think of others. “I know that people all over the world are so worried right now—about their own health, about their loved ones, about their jobs. May everyone be free of struggle and live with happiness, health, and peace.”
A good friend cheers you up. Even in a challenging time when people are hurting—even when we’re personally struggling—we can find balance and resilience by practicing joy. Doing so obviously helps us, but it also helps others when we have more lightness to share. So make sure you’re doing joyful things every day—getting sunshine, calling a friend, watching a fun movie, making cookies, exercising, relaxing with a cup of tea, doing something kind, repotting a plant, being creative, cracking jokes—whatever makes you smile. You can also practice gratitude. Simply write down or bring to mind whatever you feel grateful about.
Navigating our current challenge with deep friendship might allow for a real refuge when things are hard. It could also be the beginning of a new habit that’s available at any time.
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