- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
How does ritual fit into your anxiety reduction plan?
Ritual plays a remarkably important role in many cultures, and for good reason. Big rituals (like religious holidays) provide continuity with past generations and unite families and communities. Think Christmas and Sukkot...
And then there are the annual rituals like Carnival and the run of the Krampus (both personal favorites). All of these rituals contain a sequence of gestures, actions and events that are predictable and repeatable.
But the small rituals are my favorites because they play an evidence-based role in every day anxiety reduction. The morning cup of coffee, mindfully enjoyed in the dark, before the house wakes up. The "waking up of the house" (opening the shades, choosing the essential oil for the infuser, taking the cutting board out of the drying rack and putting it back on the counter) and also the "putting the house to sleep" (closing the curtains, shutting off all the lights except one, calling the kitties, taking one mindful breath before going upstairs).
Why does ritual matter? Rituals are purposeful, meaningful ways of doing things. They can turn an everyday routine into something grounding and solid, something to be looked forward to, a way to be more present in the moment. They are a way to structure time, to help us hang on when everything else is shifting around us, to put one foot in front of the other. And, they can help us reduce anxiety.
Anxiety, an emotion focused on future threats, can be helpful, and it is also true that many of us tend to overestimate the probability and severity of future threat. And that has long-term health consequences, including chronic inflammation, which leads to many chronic diseases.
Consider these tips to create meaningful, "stay in the moment", every day ritual ...
Add intention Consider things you do every day... waking up, going to sleep, eating, walking outside. And notice what happens when you add intention. Add a silent prayer of appreciation for the food on your table before popping anything in your mouth, or increase your sense of presence on your walk by forming a relationship with one particular tree and then watch the subtleties of how that tree changes as the seasons progress.
Think "daily"/"weekly"/"monthly" Small rituals can add important shape and structure to our time, making it feel sacred. Noticing the morning star, every morning, reminds us that the universe is huge and consistent, regardless of who is in the White House. Lighting candles on Friday night is a reminder that we have completed another week of work and now it is time for rest and reflection. And perhaps drinking a lovely cup of tea and setting intentions for the upcoming month on the final day of the previous month feels just right.
Start small and notice There is no right or wrong when it comes to ritual. Start small by choosing one routine you can "upgrade" and notice how it feels. Upgrade your shower or bath with candles and lovely smelling soap. And then notice... nice? Or wasteful? Upgrade the way you show appreciation for others by intentionally writing one "thank you" note a week and sending it through the mail. And then notice... does it fill your heart? Or make you feel annoyed that your handwriting is so scratchy? Create rituals that fill you up and disregard the others. Notice, repeat.
Ritual is an important tool for reducing anxiety, whether waiting for chemo to begin, anticipating surgery, doing overwhelming family caretaking, looking forward towards a major life transition, or celebrating the first day of snow.
Stress reduction is serious business and ritual is a good tool to add to the toolbox.
It is good to remember that we have choice - I can add intention to my routines, feel more present, and reduce anxiety. Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.