It’s a new year, and we've all got a new chance to create healthy habits, both inside and outside. But what if the circumstances outside are hindering your ability to calm the seemingly never ending stress and anxiety we feel during the pandemic? While the world seems full of threats, our ability to respond to them can be managed. In my new book, Chatter, I walk readers through research on ways to harness their internal dialogue to make it work for rather than against them. Here are five tools you can use:
Engage in Mental Time Travel
Think about how you’ll feel when the pandemic ends, nine months, a year or however long it takes. Imagining how you’ll feel once a stressor ends makes it clear that what we’re experiencing is temporary and will eventually end. That gives you hope, which helps combat stress.
Coach Yourself Like You're Talking to a Friend
It may seem strange, but when I am truly stuck I silently say to myself, “Ethan, pull it together. You’ve got this.” Science shows that by taking the first person out of the equation and coaching yourself through a situation like you would a friend you’re able to see things with a level of distance that calms your emotions and helps you reason wisely about the challenges you face.
When we’re caught in a cycle of worry or rumination, creating order in the spaces around us can help restore the order we feel lacking inside our heads (which is often the case when we’re worrying or ruminating). I leaned on this tool when I was writing Chatter. Stressed by looming deadlines, I’d frequently walk into the kitchen to clean the dishes and then carefully put them away. Organizing that space provided me with a sense of order and control that made the writing challenges ahead of me seem more manageable (an added bonus was that my wife was thrilled!).
We feel awe when we have powerful experiences that are hard to explain. I often experience it when I see a plane shooting across the sky and wonder how we mastered flying. But everyone has different awe triggers. Some get it from nature, others from witnessing an amazing performance or watching their kids do something incredible. Research shows that when we experience awe our personal concerns feel smaller.
Many people feel awe by marveling at nature and architecture outside. But if you just don’t feel like getting off your couch, you can also find it in your home. Turn on Netflix and choose an inspiring documentary or flip through your phone looking at pictures of your children taking their first steps. Find the experiences that cause you to experience awe and then seek them out when you’re overwhelmed.
Listen to Your Body
When you experience physical symptoms of stress, like butterflies in your stomach or sweaty palms, remind yourself that those physical responses are signs that your body is preparing you to manage the situation at hand. Don’t interpret them as an indication that you’re under threat, but rather that you’re rising to the challenge before you.
In addition to these tips, remind yourself that while we cannot control the outside environment, we can control how we react to it. Indeed, science has revealed a toolbox of techniques people can use to manage their chatter. To learn more, check out my book, CHATTER: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It.
Ethan Kross is one of the world’s leading experts on controlling the conscious mind. An award-winning professor in the University of Michigan’s top-ranked Psychology Department and Ross School of Business, Ethan studies how the conversations people have with themselves impact their health, performance, decisions and relationships., Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It is his first book.