This morning I had a sprout of anxiety: Numerous anxious thoughts having a little party in my head, creating fantastic narratives around “what if” scenarios and  existential questions like “what am I doing with my life” .

It needed to stop and I recognized the spiral in time, and used my go-to strategy.

What did I do?

I cleaned my toilet! (yey WFH!)

And it was hands down the best strategy for today that helped me cope with the stress and anxiety of uncertainty, unpleasant thoughts and emotions and rumination.

No, the specific object or target of my behavioral action is not the anxiety reducing strategy but the concept behind it is.

September is often a big month for transitions. The start of the school year, end of vacation, back to work, a new season. Transitions can pave way for feelings of uncertainty, instability, insecurity and all these can create some anxiety!

I want to therefore use this opportunity to share a simple strategy to help you work through the stress and anxiety of uncertainty.

So back to cleaning my toilet.

Here’s why it worked:

I placed my focus on something I could do with my hands with little cognitive effort, giving my brain a break.
I was able to divert my energy into something I can control (or least felt I could)
It gave me a sense of accomplishment and I could see the results right away
I used my extra neural resources, attending to my surroundings and my senses
At the time, I was just focused on the cleaning, getting the job done, feeling productive, and by the time I finished (cleaning the toilet, not using it), I felt much better!

So. Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stuck in rumination or scared about the uncertainty of what is/isn’t:

First recognize the spiral. You can use scaling and  can create your won scale accordingly. Fr example I have  1/10 is “I feel peace and calm” and 10/10 is a complete plunge into catastrophe. Usually I try my best to use an anxiety reduction strategy when I get to 3-4. 10 is not fun.

And then try to pick a task that:

a. You feel you CAN control
b. Gives you a sense of accomplishment and productivity where you can see the immediate effects of your efforts
c. Something physical (drawing can be an example)
d. Something that uses one or more of your senses

e. A simple, not too complicated distraction

It does not necessarily have to be something you enjoy or that gives you a sense of meaning or life purpose.

The toilet cleaning being an example.

It also does not have to be anything longer than 15 minutes or so.

Try it out! Then take a moment afterwards to reflect and learn from this action. Did it help? Not help? If it helped, is this something you could incorporate into your day or week more often as a stress or anxiety reduction strategy? If it didn’t help, what aspect of it do you feel did not work for you? What might be something different you could try?

Wishing you a lovely transition into Fall!