Four Keys to Managing Angst
In case you hadn’t noticed, we are going through an increasingly challenging era in this emerging cycle of the planet’s evolution. Mother Earth continues to change and evolve as she has done for over 4½ billion years. Yet, largely due to our human species’ influence, catastrophic fires, droughts, floods, heat waves, and other evidence of dramatic climate change have become a regular occurrence. Throw in pandemics and wars and, well, I’m sure you get the picture.
I don’t write these things to depress or scare you—maybe you’re already depressed or scared. Instead, I want to offer some “management” tools to help you traverse these troublesome and troubling times. It’s been reported that many more people are experiencing anxiety and depression, as well as other manifestations of the stress and fear that have seemingly become much more common. The news is littered with stories daily of people who can’t contain their anger and rage and so take it out in some aggressive, even violent way. It’s as if stress is the new pandemic! Feels a little crazy, doesn’t it?
It’s no wonder most of us feel some degree of fear whether we’re aware of it or not. It lingers in the collective consciousness of most humans and may be better described as angst, which is defined as “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.” Angst is psychically contagious, like an invisible yet felt wave that washes over and through all of us, most especially those who are highly sensitive and empathic.
It’s a product of our collective consciousness, subtly but surely affecting us, often without any understanding of what’s going on underneath the more apparent possibilities. When that’s the case, we may attribute the cause in a personal way to something or someone—which may, in part, be true. But, in the darker regions of our minds and hearts, we are feeling the angst of the collective. When a massive number of humans feel such strong emotions, it gets transmitted through the channels of our collective minds and hearts.
It’s akin to what happens to an animal who is trapped and instinctively tries to escape but is blocked from doing so. The animal may turn to some form of aggression and try to fight its way out. If neither of these instinctual strategies works, then it may collapse into a puddle of passivity. The nervous system simply gets overwhelmed when there is no recourse to escape or fight. Similarly, we humans may collapse into helplessness and depression in the face of this angst, not seeing a way to escape through flight or fight. This may be even more difficult to overcome when you have significant traumatic experiences in your life.
During these chaotic and uncertain times, it’s important to have some ways to navigate through the challenges you face, not just to survive but also to self-regulate so you don’t succumb to depression or end up acting out your frustration and anger on others. Following are four major “management” tools and practices with additional details that will help you regain your balance when you’re triggered, and avoid overwhelm and feeling defeated.
I don’t pretend it’s an exhaustive list, but based on my experience, these are critical in dealing with the forces that are affecting us all.
1. BREATH — Of course, if you’re reading this you’re breathing! However, under stress and the spell of angst, it’s normal for breathing to become very shallow, causing us to miss out on the full benefits of actively and consciously breathing. Though breathing is an involuntary function of the body, daily and consistent practice of any of these various breathing patterns will be the greatest assist to self-regulation:
- 4-7-8 — Inhale to a count of 4, hold your breath to a count of 7, and exhale to a count of 8. This is my all-time favorite. Inhaling activates your attention, while holding the breath for a few seconds allows your body to absorb a greater amount of the oxygen it needs. The longer count on the exhale naturally relaxes you. Repeat as needed for at least 6-8 cycles. You can do this just about any time of day as required. Try it out and see.
- 4X4 breathing — Count to 4 on the inhale, hold for 4, release to a count of 4, and pause for a count of 4 before inhaling again. Repeat a few times and see how you feel.
Cool-Warm — This is a very simple meditative pattern. Breathe through your nose and focus your awareness on the sensation of the cool air moving through your nostrils as you inhale and the warmth of the air as you exhale. Do this for at least 3-5 minutes and if you like it, gradually increase how long you breathe this way.
- Ruach — A Hebrew word that has a double meaning. It means both “holy breath” and “Holy Spirit.” Taking slow, deep breaths, when you exhale simply say the word Ruach, pronounced [Ru-ach?]. Repeat for 4-6 cycles and see what you feel.
2. EMBODIMENT — Body awareness is another principle that is important in managing angst as your body will give you clues as to what is going on. Tuning in with your awareness to the sensations in your body can help you identify those areas that are tight and in need of attention. Following are a few key areas that will support your overall mental, emotional, and physical health.
- Exercise — Whether it’s simply walking daily or more strenuous activity, exercise has been proven to have many benefits. It can improve your brain health, help you manage your weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, reduce the risk of disease, enhance mood, and help you feel better about doing everyday activities.
- Diet — Eating healthily has many benefits, including boosting immunity, keeping the bones strong, lowering the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, helping the digestive system function better, and keeping skin, teeth, and eyes healthy. Along with exercise, it’s a caring way to appreciate your body and encourage body awareness.
- Earthing — Also known as grounding, this is walking on the earth barefoot. The earth’s surface provides free electrons that transfer to human bodies to replace those that were lost to free radicals—in other words, making skin-to-skin contact with the earth is a natural antioxidant. Doing so can reduce inflammation, pain, and stress, as well as improve blood flow, sleep, and vitality.
- Massage — Ah, the healing touch of another human! Massage not only provides nurturing touch but also relieves the muscular tension that you may be carrying from ongoing stress. It’s a way to receive physical care and to allow yourself to surrender to receiving that care.
3. SUPPORT — We are social beings and although you may need periods of seclusion from time to time, staying connected to others is another essential management tool for any stress and the angst you are experiencing. It’s also an opportunity to feel loved and to love.
- Family — If you have the advantage of a good relationship with any or all members of your family, make sure to plan times to be together. If, on the other hand, you would rather avoid your family most of the time because of a troubling history, then create one with the friendships you maintain. The extensive period of social distancing and masking up seems to have, unfortunately, made people feel more cautious with one another, yet you can break through that to have even a handful of warm, caring relationships.
- Community — Not necessarily your neighborhood or city you live in, but a group with which you have something in common. Anything from 12 step programs to support groups and ongoing classes can help break that sense of isolation.
- Smile — That’s right, smile! Next time you go to the supermarket do a “dolphin smile,” or as Qi Gong Master Mantak Chia wrote, “smile as if you have happy little secret.” I’ve done this on several occasions and it’s amazing how something so simple can be so effective in lifting your mood. It also can generate friendly responses from others.
- Gratitude — Yes, you’ve heard this before but now it’s time to make it a daily practice to express your appreciation as much as possible. Doing so actually raises your vibrational frequency. Make a point of doing this each day for at least a couple weeks and see how it effects your mood and well-being.
- Meditation — There are a few different forms of meditation, including a simple breath awareness meditation with the breathing patterns mentioned above. If there’s one you have practiced, continue doing so daily. Research has indicated that those who meditate regularly still get stressed but are able to self-regulate much more quickly and effectively. That alone makes it a critical practice for managing stress and angst.
- Nature — All beings including those in the natural world are expressions of Great Spirit. Take a walk outside with that in mind. Walking slowly in Nature can be another form of meditation. Express your gratitude to all the beings you come across while walking. If possible, go barefoot as described in the section on earthing. Immerse yourself in the natural world and notice the sensations in your body.
- Creative Expression — Allow that creative energy inside you to come into expression in some activity. Those urgings you have to paint, sculpt, write poetry, dance, sing, etc. need to be honored. Tell that critical voice inside to keep quiet and follow the lead of your intuition and your heart. Engaging in any creative endeavor will melt away your worries and you may go so far as to share these creative projects with others!
- Play — Yes, play! Allow your inner child to come forth and play, whether structured play such as a game or spontaneous play, such as playing with your dog or grabbing a ball and playing catch. Remind yourself no matter how busy you are to set aside time to play and observe how you feel. Oh, yeah, and have fun!
I encourage you to take one from each of the above and make a point to practice these daily for at least two weeks and observe how you feel. Remember, it comes down to being a management issue and doesn’t mean you won’t experience stress or angst, but you’ll be able to find some relief by doing something different than the routines you find yourself in. And doing something new and different has the additional benefit of creating new neurocircuitry in the brain, a process that enriches the brain with new information while improving brain function.