I have found that living with an autoimmune disease brings its own level of anxiety. Before I had Sjogren’s or the major symptoms of Sjogren’s, I really did not have much anxiety in my life. I had a sense that if I needed something, I could work hard enough to either get it, avoid it, or bounce back from it. In essence, I had a pretty good sense of what I could achieve and control in my life. Enter Sjogren’s and anxiety — and the new experience that I no longer had control over my own body. That was my first experience of taming anxiety during uncertain times. As you all know, receiving your autoimmune diagnosis is a relief at first, and then it throws you into the realm of living with uncertainty.
My anxiety tends to show up as the fear of the unknown. For me, it’s predominantly the fear that I may not be able to make enough money to pay for treatments and my cost of living as I age. That’s my big one! However, I’ve learned many techniques to help calm my anxiety and focus on what is most important to me.
Enter Covid-19! I have now ramped-up my practice to manage my increased anxiety during this very uncertain time. See if some of my practices can help you!
Taming Anxiety During Uncertain Times: My Sjogren’s Practice
I have spent a decade trying to bio-hack Sjogren’s. I have found (for me) that diet and exercise can really calm my symptoms. So I eat a clean Autoimmune Protocol diet when I’m behaving well (and not dipping into comfort food) and I practice Yoga, walking and strength training. The strength training is done only when I’m feeling well so I don’t exacerbate inflammation if I’m near or in a flare.
These were some of the first tools that I used after several years of denial and thinking that I did not have any control over my symptoms. My next journey was adding a meditation and mindfulness practice. I learned this practice as I was completing Yoga Teacher Certification training and found it one of the best tools for calming my anxiety. (Yes, I believed that yoga helped me so much that I wanted to bring its power to others. I am now a certified and Registered Yoga Teacher).
My daily practice to help my anxiety consists of:
- 30 minutes of calming Yoga when I wake up
- 15 minutes morning meditation
- 10 minutes 3 pm meditation to calm my mind so I can continue productive work and avoid snacking
- Responding to situations during the day instead of reacting. This is helped by my meditation.
- Taking deep breaths (10) throughout the day. When I inhale, I extend my arms out to my sides and raise my arms over my head. I exhale while dropping my arms to my side. (If you practice this, be sure to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed during the process.)
My exercise routine, including more challenging Yoga classes, are in addition to this practice.
Taming Anxiety During Uncertain Times: Covid-19
The Covid-19 Pandemic has really increased anxiety for everyone! If you already had anxiety coupled with your autoimmune disease, then this time may be especially challenging for you.
Personally, I have had a difficult time staying on a diet that I know helps me; I have turned to comfort food. However, I have stuck to my other practices and I’ve added a night time meditation when I lay in bed which is called a “body scan meditation”.
A Body Scan Meditation is when you take yourself (or listen to someone else take you) through relaxing each part of your body starting with the top of your head. The imagery of light is often used to guide you to specific areas and I personally use this in my meditations to have warm light rest on my joints and areas of pain. Before I begin, I settle myself comfortably in bed and take five (5) deep breaths before beginning. A body scan can be used at any time you need!
If you are looking for apps to help you, try Insight Timer. Log onto their website to review and download their app. There are free meditations and a paid version. I suggest that you test out recordings of different teachers to see who really speaks to you. The voice that is guiding you should be appealing to you. I happen to love some of the tried and true teachers like Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Kristin Neff. They each have their specialties and unique voices. And there are many, many other teachers!
The Keys to Meditation and Mindfulness
Many people think that “they can’t meditate” because their mind wanders when they try. THAT’S OK! This is why we meditate! Training our brain takes practice (just like training our body) and everyone’s mind wanders at first. Please keep trying.
A few keys to meditation and mindfulness that can help with anxiety:
- Breathe deeply and often
- Be in the moment (not future tripping and not struggling with the past)
- Release judgment (of yourself and others)
- Practice Responding and not Reacting
- Practice gratitude
If you find your mind wandering, try to print those thoughts (as words) on a cloud image and watch the cloud float away. This act helps stop your mind from ruminating. Just keep doing that as you practice the moments of stillness in your mind.
I work from home and have for 10 years so these practices easily fit into my day. If you are working remotely during the pandemic, these practices may help you. And when you return to the office, your practice can be continued. More businesses are supporting mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation has shown that employees are actually more productive when they have a personal practice. So give it a try.
Shifting Your Mindset
Another idea during these times is to shift your mindset to your unique perspective. One thought I’ve had recently is that I am already used to staying home more than the average person so “sheltering at home” is not a big change for me. I have already practiced self-compassion around being somewhat isolated, and now I can extend true compassion to others who are not used to staying at home. What a great time when we can take our challenging experiences and share compassion with others. This was my thought, and I bet you have others!
Finally, if you are still struggling with finding your new normal, or holding to your new normal during this time, you may want to review some earlier posts I wrote about the grief cycle with an autoimmune disease. The more we recognize where we are emotionally, the better we can move through it!
I wish you health and happiness! For me, I am now inspired to get back on the diet that helps me with pain, fatigue and brain fog….and of course, continue my yoga and meditation practice.