A year ago, few of us knew what was about to come our way. As a result of the past year’s challenges, namely dealing with social isolation and distancing, Jewish Atlantans have learned to become more emotionally resilient. To help us continue to combat stress, three Atlanta experts in the field of human behavior pulled upon scientific-based evidence when offering suggestions for improving our mood and outlook on life.
“COVID is multiplying the stress and anxiety all of us are feeling,” said Stephen W. Garber, a psychologist at the Behavioral Institute of Atlanta. “Realizing that ‘under stress, we all regress’ is the first step to accepting and managing the feelings we are all dealing with. If you come from a long line of worriers, you come by worry naturally, which makes things more difficult. Recognizing this can help you put your feelings in perspective.”
Dr. Garber continued, “Worry and fear have a survival value when you recognize a problem and problem solve.” When you worry, Garber said to ask yourself, “Am I just spinning my wheels, stuck in my head and obsessing about things or am I problem solving? Defining a problem and coming up with possible solutions can help you feel more in control,” he said.
“Accepting the things you cannot control is difficult. When you try not to be anxious, you can make yourself even more anxious. It is important to realize when you are anxious, step back and accept you do not have to control. Actually, facing and dealing with your feelings can help you feel more in control.”
When you are feeling overwhelmed, Dr. Garber said, “Do yourself a favor and return to the present and experience a bite-sized break from worry. Instead of repetitive negative thoughts, take refuge in the present and enjoy the moment. Anything you do that is enjoyable can help reduce stress: savor a favorite food, read a book or take a walk,” he continued.
“Mindfulness takes us away from worries and helps to ground us. Connect with people who you can reciprocally share your feelings with and lift each other up.”
David Woodsfellow of The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples Therapy weighed in on chronic moodiness. “Ask yourself, what are my feelings telling me? Let yourself feel your feelings. Explore them. See where they lead. Is there something you need to understand? Or change? Or do? Or not do? Trust your feelings; let them guide you,” he said.
“Moods happens to the best of us. It’s a good idea to share your fear, your pain, your vulnerability. It is not such a good idea to share your grumpiness. If your mood will bring others toward you, with compassion, share it. If your mood will push others away, don’t share it.”
Regarding practices he recommends becoming more positive. Dr. Woodsfellow suggested, “Gratitude, kind words, and acts of service. Think about all the good things in your life and put your appreciation in words.” To couples, he suggests, “Give compliments every day. Do little things for each other, daily touch each other, and do something nice together. Every day.”
Another Atlanta psychologist Beth Seidel said, “Most of the work I’m doing is with people who are struggling with anxiety and depression. I am teaching them how to be aware of what elevates their anxiety and depression and better manage it. Two main things I suggest is deep breathing to get their body to relax and the second is self-talk, which is balancing your thoughts because anxiety distorts our thinking. I teach them how to insert truth and facts to balance the worried or negative thinking,” she said.
“With more serious issues, it is important to focus on what you do have control over and what you do not. The techniques still work either way, since when you are aware of your feelings, you do not feel as helpless. It’s important to balance your thoughts, which don’t always have to be positive, but the awareness can help you manage the worry better and focus on what you can do and not what you can’t do so that you feel more empowered.”
Dr. Seidel points to technology that can help. “I also like Calm and Head Space, which are two apps that provide all kinds of resources to help you manage anxiety or depression. From meditation to sleep mediation and even tracking your mood during the day.”
On a final note, Dr. Seidel offers deep breathing methods. “Belly breaths slow down your heart rate, blood flow and relax your muscles. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, where you cannot push out any more air like you are breathing and blowing our birthday candles. You want your stomach to deflate and then breathe back in through your nose and out through your mouth again.”