19 May 2022

Breathworks teacher Karen Liebenguth gives us some tips for living well with the ongoing background sense of anxiety and uncertainty that's so pervasive in the modern world.


New words are added to the English lexicon all the time to reflect the times we live in. Two that have caught my eye are 'perma-crisis' (permanent crisis) which captures how we are moving and living with crisis to crisis – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, a planet in crisis, economic downturn, rising living costs…. and it’s not the end, for sure. 

The other new word is BANI, which stands for Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible. Once again, aptly reflecting the zeitgeist.

How can we live well in the face of events that are too big, complex and messy to comprehend and that we struggle to make sense of? Events that show us how fragile our life is to the point of sheer overwhelm and that what we have can disappear from one day to the next – as it is for so many in the Ukraine.

Many of us have lived with feelings of fear, panic, anxiety, stress and overwhelm for some time now. These emotions have the potential to define us – how we live, work, feel and manage our day to day. But there is another way. We can make choices about how we deal with adversity and uncertainty so that we stay connected, resilient and maintain good mental health.

Mindfulness practice can help us to notice more and more when we get caught up in our negative stories that we spin in our head and that these are just stories, often not true. Thoughts and worries such as: “Times are terrible. I’m feeling so anxious. What if I can’t cope? What if I can’t make ends meet. What if I lose my job? What if we have a third world war?”, are human and normal. 

With a mindfulness practice you learn to come back again and again to the present, to what we know. In a moment of panic or catastrophising we can say to ourselves with kindness: “Right now, I’m here, I’m ok.” When we do, we take a broader perspective on things and feel more confident about ourselves and life. 

There is a human tendency to over-focus on the negative. It comes from evolution and helped us survive as a species. A good place to see the negativity bias at work is through the media which constantly reinforce it. The good news is, we can counter-balance our negativity bias by noticing it and to begin to see the fuller picture of day to day life that always also includes good stuff. 

11 Tips for Living Well in times of Crisis and Anxiety

Don’t feel you have to do all of the tips all at once. It would overwhelm you. Read through them carefully and see what feels most helpful for you right now. Pick one or two. Do them for a week or two, then come back to the list and pick another one or two. That way over time you’ll build a toolkit to support yourself and stay well in the midst of adversity. 

1. Reduce information input

Pay attention to how often you check the news or browse the web. Decide to watch the news two or three times a day but no more. Our mind often suffers from over-stimulation due to information overload. It dulls and clouds the mind, puts it into high alert mode and fosters negative emotion. 

2. Notice the good stuff

While going about your day. In addition, at the end of the day take a moment and look back over your day. Recall all the pleasant and enjoyable moments that you have experienced. They always happen and through awareness we begin to ‘fill our tank’ with positive emotion and wellbeing. 

3. Pause 5x daily to take 3 deep breaths

This one takes about 20 seconds. Set your alarm or a post-it note reminder. Connecting with the body and breath in this way activates the parasympathetic nervous-system that lets the brain know that you are safe; it brings us back into our direct sensory experience, into the here and now where we can feel safe, grounded and calm. It’s a direct antidote to spiralling off in our head which activates the sympathetic nervous system.

4. Take regular mindful breaks (before you need one)

Taking regular breaks keeps us resourceful, creative and productive throughout the day vs feeling completely wiped-out and exhausted at the end of the day which makes us more sensitive and vulnerable in the face of uncertainty. Set your alarm after 60 or 90 minutes. 

5. Spend time in nature often if not daily

Research shows that spending time in nature has many benefits for our mental and physical wellbeing. When we spend time outdoors we slow down naturally which lowers the heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels (cortisol and adrenaline). As the body softens, the nervous system calms down and we feel more relaxed, grounded (in the body vs in the head), calm and more confident about ourselves and life. Being in nature strengthens our immune system, improves mood and reduces feelings of isolation. 

Just a 20-minute walk in your local park a few times a week can make a big difference to how we feel about ourselves and life. If you don’t have a green space near you, spend some time sitting in the garden or watching the trees, the sky and clouds from your window. 

6. Practice self-care

Do one thing daily to consciously care for yourself. Caring for oneself is not selfish or self-indulgent as often thought. Self-care nourishes the mind and heart. When that happens we feel well inside and have more to give to others too: cycling, yoga, reading, time in the garden, a bath, combing your hair, making an effort dressing yourself (even at home), eating regularly and healthily, keeping your environment clean and tidy (keeps us grounded and secure), a short nap (clears and restores the mind from over-stimulation.

7. Regular chats with a close friend

Checking-in with someone about how we feel is hugely helpful because being heard by someone lightens the load and turns it into a shared experience. It’s important here not to turn the conversation into a moaning session with the result that both of you go down the negative spiral of anxiety, despair and hopelessness. Stay present and describe your experience as it. Then also share some good bits, pleasant experiences, something you’ve enjoyed doing.

8. Have a regular practice once a week

Yoga, running, meditation, cycling, martial arts, painting, making music, baking bread, cooking, crafting, knitting etc. This is a practice not a habit. A habit slips into the background, we do it without thinking. A practice requires a re-commitment - it reminds us that we live lives of meaning, that we take responsibility for our wellbeing so that we can enhance the lives of others too.

9. Self-kindness

One of the keys to reducing stress, panic and anxiety and increasing resilience is self-kindness. When we become more aware of our habitual reactions, we often don’t like what we notice and tend to judge ourselves harshly. This adds more unnecessary suffering. Bringing kindness, curiosity, acceptance and friendliness to our experience, saying to yourself: “This is how I react and feel, this is human, others react and feel this way”, helps us to avoid getting caught up in negative emotions. Self-kindness helps us to become more emotionally robust and resilient.

10. Common humanity and mindful well-wishing

Pause several times a day, connect with the quality of your heart and from this place wish yourself and others well, hold them in your mind: colleagues, friends, loved ones, people in your neighbourhood, in your borough, throughout the world… Remember that yes, where we might physically distance ourselves from others right now but we are all here and in it together; connected with each other. 

11. Reflection & wisdom

Take a moment to reflect on the truth of change and of our interdependence; on the frailty and preciousness of life: it helps us relax the body and mind, helps us relax into how things are vs wishing them to be different when they are not which takes energy and headspace; it broadens our perspective on things and reminds us that we are not alone in this.

Karen Liebenguth is an accredited mindfulness teacher with Breathworks, an accredited life and leadership coach and a nature lover. She specialises in taking her coaching clients on a walk in one of London’s parks and green spaces.

To find out more about Karen’s work, visit her website or book an initial chat with her: https://www.greenspacecoaching.com/