6 Ways to Stay Calm in a Scary World

New Awakenings Therapy

Wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, mass shootings, international weapons scares and political unrest. These are common topics of conversation for which clients are coming to therapy these days. They express feeling anxious, terrified, angry, unsettled, as if there is no solid ground to stand on. They speak of being more vigilant when they leave the house, holding onto their children’s hands a bit tighter, feeling more “emotional,” and sometimes even hesitant to leave the safety of their home at all. They want to know how to go on with life as usual when it feels as though the world is crumbling down around them? It is a question many of us are facing currently. And although there aren’t any magic solutions, there are ways to move us toward peace during this time of fear and uncertainty.

1.  Know that you are not alone.

Reach out to friends and loved ones and share your fears about the state of the world. You will find that others are feeling similarly and can also use your support. Connect in a real way, not just on social media, but in person. It is important for us to connect with our community during times like this. If this doesn’t feel like it is enough, if you are struggling with daily functioning or feel paralyzed by anxiety or fear, seek out a mental health professional. They are trained to help you to learn ways to cope with your anxiety in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

2.  Limit exposure to news and social media

Although it is important to have knowledge of what is going on in the world, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information that is out there. We can experience something called “vicarious trauma” from this constant exposure to the tragedy, which can sometimes have just as negative of an effect as direct trauma. People can experience repetitive graphic images, nightmares and general anxiety as a result. I often tell my clients to take news feeds and social media off of their phone. It is a common habit to pick up our phones for a quick update and soon realize we have been scrolling mindlessly for an hour and wonder why we feel so bad afterward.

3.  Take care of yourself

Find ways to de-stress and relax your central nervous system such as listening to soothing music, watching a comforting movie/tv show or practicing deep breathing. Meditate, pray or seek out religious/spiritual leaders if that fits into your world. Make it a point to take time for yourself and not just keep busy with work. By trying to relax periodically throughout our day, even for a few minutes, we can decrease our anxiety and create reserves for coping when things get difficult.

4.  Take action

For some it feels necessary to take action when tragedy strikes. Donate money or time to an organization that you believe in, that seems to be doing good for the world. It is a natural human response to have compassion and to want to help those in need. In turn, this compassion in action can help us to feel less helpless and anxious. Other actions can be to write to your congress person or perhaps use your energy toward your own or your family’s disaster preparedness.

5.  Practice gratitude

It can be helpful to practice gratitude when we feel helpless and can only seem to think about all of the bad things that are happening around us. We must take time to think about all that is good in our lives and in the world. Perhaps writing in a gratitude journal every day and listing 5 things that you are grateful for. This can shift our attention away from all of the bad to actually seeking out the good, even seemingly insignificant things such as the sound of a bird chirping or a stranger smiling at us in greeting.

6.  Breathe.

Finally, if all else fails, take 3 slow, deep breaths. Close your eyes and fully feel the inhalation and the exhalation. This will slow down your central nervous system, help you to feel calm and relaxed, even if only for a few moments. It can also help to bring some clarity as to what to do next, perhaps to try one of the steps above!

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.

Clinging to Happiness Leads to More Anxiety

Expert anxiety counseling in Woodland Hills

Christina Barber-Addis, Psy.D.

I recently visited the island of Kauai for a vacation. It was my first trip to Hawaii and the first vacation I had taken in a few years. I remember throughout those five months after booking the trip, I would think about the trip constantly, dreaming about the fun and relaxation that I would experience. When things would get stressful or overwhelming, I would remind myself that more happiness was on the way, in the form of an awesome vacation. And especially as the vacation neared, I found myself becoming more and more impatient with my current workload and daily tasks, dreaming for my vacation to take me away from it. 

Then I went on my vacation and had a wonderful time. But I noticed, underneath the joy, there was this underlying anxiety and agitation that my vacation experience didn’t compare to my expectation of how I thought it would be. In fact, the first few days of the vacation, I actually felt more anxious than prior to arriving. This puzzled me, but in looking back, I think it was because of my unrealistic expectation of the vacation transporting me away from my problems. My expectation was that my time in Kauai would be life-altering and take all my cares away. Of course, this wasn’t the case. All of my troubles and challenges that I had prior to my vacation, travelled on that plane along with me. 

After returning home, the disappointment continued because life threw its many wrenches at me almost as soon as the plane landed. Work was slow, leading to financial woes and the stress of our bathroom remodel reared it’s ugly head. I remember thinking, “Great, I guess all the good from the vacation is cancelled out since I can’t savor the moment. I’m thrown back into the real world again.” But, is this how it should be? Should we expect the joy from a vacation to last beyond our returning home? Are we then clinging to happiness well past its expiration date?

My biggest realization in all of this was that I wasn’t being present in my experience. The expectations and constant comparisons between “real life” and my time on vacation pulled me away from being fully immersed and present in my experience, before, during and after the vacation. What might my experience have been like if I were to allow it all in, the challenges and the joys, equally? What if I had little expectation, but rather, curiosity about my vacation and allow the joy and fun to rise and pass without judgment? All I know is that clinging to happiness only added to my anxiety. 

So how do we do this? How do we not cling to happiness? It is natural to be excited about an upcoming exciting event or vacation. But perhaps when we notice ourselves pulling away from our present experience, even when it is unpleasant, we can notice this and come back to the task at hand. Although not as exciting as the dreamy expectation of the future excitement, we are potentially preventing the anxiety that will come from the expectation that we will be saved from our present challenges. In turn, we can notice when we are being pulled away from joy by the thought of its inevitable end and just feel it, giving ourselves the gift of being present in our lives, right now, in this moment. 

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.

How to Get Unstuck

Expert Anxiety Counseling in Encino

I feel stuck. Things feel slow, unmoving and stale. I want change but it seems that the change I want is just out of my reach. There is a sense of others finding this change or even acquiring the exact thing I want but I can’t seem to make it happen

I have heard many clients express these statements and of course, I have also said them myself. It can cause us anxiety and sometimes depression, to feel stuck, unable to move forward. Often, we are waiting for the right answer or to know a specific path before we make a move. However, it may not be so easy to figure this out or to feel certain about which way to go. 

I just realized that one of the symbols that I have been attracted to for a long time is of stones, stacked one on top of the other, gradually getting smaller as you near the top. I even have an image of them on my business cards. It is funny how we are attracted to certain things and realize that there is a much deeper significance behind the attraction. In the Zen Buddhism tradition, these stacked stones are called cairns. One definition reads, 

Cairns symbolize direction, safety and home for travelers moving along life’s path. 

There is even a zen proverb that reads, 

Move and the way will open

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, one of the things I remind my clients, time and again is when we feel stuck, we should just make some kind of movement, no matter how small. This will often lead to another small movement and then another. So we will often go from feeling stuck to feeling as though we are moving forward. Even if this path isn’t the exact one we want, it will likely help us to find it, just through these small movements.

So when we feel stuck, the task is to think of one way, even if it seems insignificant, to make movement. This movement may even seem unrelated to the bigger change that we desire in our lives. Moving in some way, any way, will likely lead us to the right path. We can even keep images or an actual cairn, somewhere where we can see it as a reminder to keep moving. What small move can you make today?

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.