By Elizabeth D. Winkler
College is a time of curiosity, discovering your values, and cultivating your direction in adult life. I have had the honor of working deeply with college women over the years facing stress, anxiety, as well as a multitude of traumatic experiences. The pandemic brought a whole new level of anxiety and a mental health crisis to campuses nationally. Currently many students and families are experiencing deep fear for their safety due to the War in Israel. Many have asked how do we navigate these incredibly difficult times? Fortunately, even in the face of fear, we have timeless tools to navigate the fear we hear, see and feel.
I’m here, as a mental health professional, a mother of Jewish children, and as a human with hope that we can find ways to, as my dear friend and mentor davidji says, transform the world by transforming ourselves. As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher I am always focused on how to heal. How can we transform at this time of intense energy, and overwhelming fear? I always look to the healing and teachings that have endured thousands of years of turmoil, pain and devastation.
Let’s begin with how you can get present and create a sense of safety when you feel scared and isolated. Begin with your breath. I often say that the anxiety you experience may feel like a category 5 hurricane within your heart. So how are you handling the weather within you? Have you taken time to pause and notice with a gentle hand on your heart. Try this now, pause with me and if comfortable close your eyes and take an elevator from your head to your heart. Feel the breath moving through the weather within your heart, no matter what storm or clouds you may find here, allow it to be as it is and allow the breath to support and move just like the wind does through clouds in the sky. Stay here as you simply notice the energy moving and passing through. This too shall pass, this too shall pass, and you may begin to notice a clearing in the sky, an opening of spaciousness between clouds and storms. Notice that space and notice the breath. Now you can come back to an open eye. How was this for you? Feel free to read these prompts to your loved ones and to find your own way to bring a pattern interrupt to the tornadoes of fear that we get lost in. This is central to becoming grounded and empowered within your own being.
You must remember that your entire life is created by intention and attention. So, where is your attention? Meditation and mindfulness offer ways for you to get present which open up immense benefits. I’ve seen quick, effective, and life-changing results from incorporating mindfulness into my therapeutic process. This is why I call mindfulness the bullet train to freedom.
BENEFITS OF STAYING PRESENT
Staying present is a major tenet of mindfulness and meditation, both of which have been proven to reduce stress and burnout the other benefits of such practices include:
· Less anxiety
· More relaxed breathing
· Lower cortisol levels
· Better sleep
· More creativity
· Increased focus and attention
· Less reactivity
· A deeper and wider capacity to tolerate emotional challenges
Additionally, through meditation and mindfulness, we become skillful at the power we give to each passing thought and become more grounded in the present moment.
In these times of turbulence, I am offering 7 steps to help you get present and heal from within.
1. R.P.M. – The first question I ask a client struggling with anxiety is: How do you start your day? Science shows, your anxiety and stress levels will dramatically go down if the first thing you put your attention on is nourishing and calm. Rather than stress, like the news and emails. RPM (Rise Pee Meditate) is a powerful acronym that teaches that the only thing you put before your meditation is going to the bathroom. The reason being, if you add anything else (e.g. brushing your teeth, walking your dog), then your mind becomes too activated with stressful lists, leading to more anxiety.
2. Pause More – Implement Pause Practices: Pause when you notice anxiety start to spark, close your eyes, bring your awareness to the activation in your body, and notice it with loving awareness. This allows us to work at the root of our fear with a gentleness that brings deep healing. For guidance on this access my 4 minute pause practice to accept and reset.
3. Breath Practice – Still Point Breathing connects you to your depth of calm and allows you to feel anchored. Close your eyes and notice your breath moving in and out. Do not force your breath, only notice your natural breathing. You can put your hand on your stomach and feel the belly expand as you breathe in and contract as you breathe out. Stay with noticing this movement, and then notice the pause at the end of the exhale. As you notice that space, that gap, that still point, notice how that feels. As the activity of breath continues, see if you are able to keep your attention in that still point. Let yourself rest in that space. For more guidance on this access my meditation: Connecting to Your Inner Calm on Insight Timer.
4. Intention Setting – Every morning, after you meditate, choose an intention for the day, energy you want to embody and ripple on the planet, such as love, peace, gratitude, forgiveness, courage, freedom, letting go, etc. Write the intention on your wrist so you can stay connected to this reminder throughout the day.
5. Name It to Tame It – I teach clients to call their anxiety “activation”. Instead of saying “I’m anxious,” shift to “I’m activated,” like a snow globe that is all shook up. Why? If you have a history of anxiety, you likely have some fear to experience it again. This fear creates resistance, and what you resist… persists. When you reframe it, you can more easily accept what is happening inside and give it the space to unravel and heal. Here is a 3 minute guided practice to help you let go and flow.
6. Work With Mantra – Is your mind running you, or are you managing your mind? Mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words: man meaning “mind” and tra meaning “vehicle”. We can choose to be more purposeful with how we use our minds and mantra is a helpful tool. Every morning, pick one of my lemon mantras to work with throughout your day to help make lemonade out of the lemons life gives you. This allows you to stay connected to the power of presence rather than the fearful mind which adds logs to the fire of anxiety. Access all of my lemon mantras and other mindfulness downloads on my website.
7. Feelings have messages- This is inspired by Brianna Wiest writing on how our feelings aren’t random, they are messengers that can provide deeper understanding of our needs within. Wiest asks, What is this feeling here to teach me? Your anger is telling you where you feel powerless. Your anxiety is showing you that something is out of balance. Your fear is showing you what you care about. Your apathy is telling you where you are overextended and burnt out. Listen to these messages and allow yourself to tend to these deeper needs. Access my heart healing virtual course to help you alchemize your challenging emotions.
In addition to these tools to help you connect to the calm within you, we always need to also create more connection in our lives. Remember that in times of crisis you can deepen your healing by prioritizing your self-care routines. Take time to reach out to loved ones, schedule time with a psychotherapist, journal, spend time in nature to recalibrate and practice grounding by placing your feet on the soil or grass.
In the midst of life’s turbulent seas, we can find an anchor of peace within ourselves. By embracing these practices and committing to nurturing your mental health, you’ll not only weather the storms but also thrive in the face of adversity. Remember that you’re not alone in this journey; countless others are navigating the same challenges. Reach out, share your experiences, and offer support to those around you.
Together, as a community of resilient individuals, we can transform the world by first transforming ourselves. By focusing on self-healing, staying present, and finding inner peace, we can navigate these difficult times with courage, compassion, and strength.
Elizabeth D. Winkler is a LMFT & Certified Masters of Wisdom + Meditation Teacher