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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

3 Tips for Dealing with Anxiety


image by paolo nicolello at unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

Do you remember the 'Weasley Clock' from the Harry Potter series? It was very convenient to know who was at 'work,' 'school,' 'home,' 'in transit,' and so on. But they gave up checking the clock during the Second Wizarding War because it just showed that everyone was in 'mortal peril' all the time. 

I can understand how the Weasleys felt. My family has been relatively unharmed from COVID-19 (at least so far), but we've had multiple deaths and hospitalizations over the past few years. Every time the phone rings, I assume someone's in the emergency room.  

While your circumstances are different from mine, you're probably dealing with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety these days, so I'd like to share with you some of the techniques that help me feel calmer and more focused.

Tip #1: Interrupt the Worry Loop

We sometimes have the irrational idea that worrying is productive. Worrying doesn't really accomplish anything. It just keeps our minds full so there's no room for anything else. It's like stuffing ourselves with junk food that doesn't even taste good.

As an alternative, try asking yourself questions to shift your thought patterns from ruminating to strategizing, or resting in uncertainty.

Ask yourself, 
"How much of this situation do I have control over?"

Even if it's just a small part of the problem, focusing on what you can control feels calming and empowering.

When there's nothing you can do but wait, remind yourself:

"No news is no news."

It could be good news. It could be bad news. It could even be bad news that counts as good news under the circumstances. At the moment, I'm relieved to know that one family member 'just' has pneumonia, and another is recovering well after falling and breaking a bone.

Tip #2: Make Your Own Mantra 

When I was going through a particularly stressful and uncertain time, I'd lie awake at night freaking out because I don't know what to do.

What finally helped was to turn it into a type of uncertainty meditation practice.

(breathing in) "What to do?"  (breathing out) "Don't know."
(breathing in) "What to do?"  (breathing out) "Don't know."
(breathing in) "What to do?"  (breathing out) "Don't know."

It might seem like this would make me feel worse, but I actually found it very soothing. I think that's because of the combination of the slow, calming breaths and the acceptance that 'not knowing' was the only possible response to the situation.

Recently I've been having trouble sleeping again, and it helps to just acknowledge my insomnia rather than trying to fight it.

(breathing in) "Can't sleep." (breathing out) "Oh, well."

Sometimes that helps me fall asleep, but even if it doesn't, it always helps me feel a lot calmer.

Tip #3: Try an Anti-Perfectionist Slogan

There are different reasons for anxiety. Sometimes you know exactly what you need to do, but you just can't get it all done.

It can help to acknowledge:

"That's my limit for today."

"I"m doing the best I can."

Toward the end of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Monty sings a line that always makes me smile:

"Remember mediocrity is not a mortal sin!"

I hope it's obvious that I'm not encouraging anybody to slack off and fail to meet your responsibilities. The point is to recognize when you really have done the best you can do.


We all have different circumstances, but this isn't an easy year for anyone. I hope these suggestions help you feel a bit calmer and better able to face your own specific set of challenges. 

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)

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