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Let’s face it. The last two years haven’t been the year we expected. It’s been car crash after car crash, metaphorically speaking, and it’s not over yet. If you’re feeling a little stressed, have a sense of dread or even a little unsafe, even in your own skin, don’t worry, it’s completely normal, says psychotherapist Dr Laurie Nadel. So to help you out, here are a of her tips for managing your feelings in times of uncertainty and change.


Find Your Inner Peace

Fear is a comorbid infection that damages our immune system and can overload our health, explains Dr Nadel, and finding your calm is essential for surviving in a climate of fear. She suggests setting aside five minutes a day to go to your place of ‘inner safety’. This is a private place where only you can go. Close your eyes and ask your mind to take you back to a place and time when you remember feeling relaxed and safe. Make a fist and as you tighten your fist, allow those warm, good feelings of calm and safety to build until they reach a peak and fade away like a chord of music. Open your eyes and release your fist. To get back to your place of inner safety, make that fist and say, “Take me back.”

Focus on Your Diet

What we consume everyday can have a profound effect on us physically and mentally, and Dr Nadel says during times of stress it’s more important than ever to choose healthy food and avoid sugar, junk food, alcohol and caffeine. She also advises not eating alone or at your desk. Instead, have a virtual dinner party or meet a colleague for lunch. If you have to eat by yourself, turn away from your TV and computer screens and look out the window to greenery. This ability to choose what you eat and where you eat it will help you regain some small sense of control.

Meet Your “Three Elephants”

Over time fears can escalate, explains Dr Nadel and as they embed in our unconscious, they often show up as three elephants: loss of control, loss of safety and loss of identity. She says that in order to conquer our fears we need to meet these ‘elephants’ head on. In facing the first elephant, it’s important to become mindful of patterns, habits and routines that we can control. Calming the second elephant means finding patterns, habits and rituals that help us feel safer. It can be a chair or couch, a garden, or a route where you take daily walks. Spend time in your place of inner safety whenever you can. This will reinforce your sense of self, helping conquer the third elephant. Write or say this affirmation and repeat it when you need to: “Despite the chaos and destruction around me, I can find calm and safety within myself”.

Photo by Jess Loiterton.

Start a Happiness Jar

Having a daily reminder of things that make you happy is one way to find inner calm in stressful moments. Dr Nadel suggests taking a jar, glass or bowl, labelled “HAPPINESS”, and place scrap paper and pens or markers next to it. Then, throughout the day write down one thing that makes you happy on a piece of paper. Put the “happy papers” into the jar, taking time to reflect on what you have written. Wait for a moment when you are feeling stressed or low and read your “happy papers” aloud to yourself to remind you of all the things that make you smile on a daily basis.

Hold on to Hope

One of the most challenging yet essential actions we can do when we’re feeling lost and anxious is to try to focus on hope, says Dr Nadel. We are living through a painful, turbulent cycle, she says, but like all cycles in nature, it comes to an end and new life always begins. Dr Nadel recommends reminding yourself that this is a law of nature, so whatever you are going through isn’t permanent. Change will come, and this period in your life will fade away into the next phase. It’s a cycle you can trust in.

How to Diffuse Panic

Dr Nadel also has five tools that should be in every person’s emotional toolbox.

TOOL #1: Look up! When you feel frightened or overwhelmed, look up quickly as it shifts your focus of attention from your feelings to your visual thinking. Looking up works like swiping the screen so that your brain refocuses on what it sees instead of disturbing physical sensations or emotions.

TOOL #2: Extend both arms as far as they can go. Looking at a scene of destruction can literally cause nausea. As you extend both arms, check out the tips of your fingers in the corner of your peripheral vision. Engaging your peripheral vision helps to neutralize harsh reactions. In effect, it creates a safety shield between you and the ugliness of the scene.

TOOL #3: Visualise a two-way mirror: Picture or imagine that you are looking through a two-way mirror. You can see out, but nobody can see in. This creates a safety shield that can help you navigate and make decisions.

TOOL #4: Colour breathing As you inhale, notice where in your body you are holding tension or stress. Focusing on the discomfort, ask yourself, “What colour will help me to feel calm?”. Breathe it in and allow the soothing colour to find its way into the parts of your body you want to feel relaxed and calm. When you exhale, release any unwanted sensation by breathing out a different colour.

TOOL #5: Focus on your feet When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, imagine that you are swiping a cursor from your head to the soles of your feet. Rub your feet on the floor. Do not think of anything except what your feet feel like as they rub against the floor. This easy action disconnects the anxiety in your brain and is instantly calming. Your feet cannot ‘do’ anxiety.


This is an edited extract from Beauty and Wellness at Home: A Woman’s Guide to Living Positively with Beauty, Wellness and Fitness Tips and Healthy Recipes, $19.99, Paperback, Amazon.