While many are searching for ways to cope with anxiety during this time of uncertainty, Williamson, Inc. shifted its First Friday event from its usual business and leadership topics to provide stress management advice with a panel from the Refuge Center for Counseling.
Bryan Doleshel, the community development officer at Williamson, Inc. and president of the board at the Refuge Center, welcomed Dr. Weston Crafton, LMFT, Lauren Milikin, MS and intake specialist and counselor, and Pike Williams, LMFT and staff therapist to discuss how to deal with these current unprecedented circumstances.
The panel began by considering the physical response to stress, explaining that the heightened, fight-or-flight effect of anxiety is natural and has a useful function, such as preparing one to run away from or fight a bear, but, if engaged for too long, this state can result in exhaustion.
“What we’re finding in this time period is that our threat is not seen like a bear; it is unseen, and it is kind of anywhere,” Milikin said. “Our tendency is to stay up in the anxiety zone and stay in this heightened state of physiological arousal, which taxes our system.”
Milikin added this can result in exhaustion and lack of motivation. Williams said emotions are normal and don’t need to be solved, but there are some practical ways to bring mind and body into a healthier place.
The panel suggested first and foremost to limit the amount of news — stress-inducing news in particular — one is taking in every day. Crafton recommended checking the news once in the morning for a few minutes. Milikin suggested each person should gauge their own limits.
“I would base that limit finding on, ‘How much can I engage so that I’m informed but I’m not overwhelmed?’” Milikin said. “For some people, that might look like (checking) in every morning like Weston was saying. For some people, that might look like (checking) in once a week.”
Crafton added – for those especially prone to anxiety – he sometimes recommends scheduling a window for worry to provide structure.
“You’re going to give yourself permission to worry as much as you want for 10 minutes a day, and you’re going to formulate an action plan, and at that point, you’re going to put the worry away,” he said. “If worry comes back up … outside of that window, just make a note of it in your phone, and you’re going to worry about that the next time you have that appointment.”
In addition to limiting time spent reading negative news stories, Milikin said it’s also important to limit screen time altogether.
“Right now, we’re spending way more time than normal engaging in a digital realm, and that’s really helpful for us for that social connection that we need, but it’s also helpful for our brains to disconnect from that digital place and to get analog,” she said.
For those wishing to calm themselves down as they experience anxiety at home or before entering a stressful environment — essential workplaces, for example — the panel suggested a number of things: short meditations (Crafton suggested using the Headspace app), exercise, creative activities and deep breathing.
“It’s really important when we inhale … to let our stomach relax. In other words, we could just call this stomach breathing,” Williams said. “We’re trying to let our diaphragm relax when we inhale, so this is not chest breathing.”
He said during this deep “stomach breathing,” the diaphragm comes into contact with the vagal nerve, which is essentially a way of “reverse engineering the adrenal response” to relax oneself.
Additionally, Williams said taking notes while receiving news or stress-inducing information can help keep people grounded. He suggested that business leaders encourage employees to take notes during meetings.
“Encourage them to stay grounded as you talk. Encourage them not to run ahead,” he said. “Don’t fantasize about what you’re hearing. Take the thought captive; wrestle that thought back.”
The Refuge Center is still open and accepting new clients, primarily remotely, and the organization’s annual Live Intentionally event will be a virtual presentation held on April 17.
“This year’s topic is living with presence, connection and intention after trauma,” Milikin said. “Honestly, I don’t know when that could’ve been more timely.”
For more information, visit www.refugecenter.org.