If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety at this time – you are not alone. There are plenty of resources and strategies out there at the moment, but here are a few tips on how to deal with your anxiety if deep breaths just aren’t cutting it…
I’ve always been, what one would call, a worry-wort. Over the years, I’ve recognised it as a type of generalised anxiety where I’m prone to dwelling on spiralling thoughts of “what ifs?” and “when’s”, accompanied by an uncanny knack for thinking up worst-case scenarios in nearly any situation (incredibly soothing).
While regular therapy sessions have helped a great deal – arming me with a number of helpful strategies, such as breathing techniques and thought challenging exercises – I have recognised that amidst this challenging pandemic, many of my garden-variety, anxiety management techniques are not quite cutting it. Now there is a huge fresh batch of worries to worry about, on top of all the worries that were around before. It’s exhausting, and overwhelming, and after implementing my regular strategies with little success, I knew I needed to come at things a bit differently…
1. Accept that these times are different, they’re unusual
One of the things that inflamed my anxiety was that I felt, deep down, that everyone had all this ‘stuff’ under control. People were appearing resilient and positive in the face of shut-downs and job losses, meanwhile, I was wrapped in a blanket, rocking back and forth in the corner of my apartment, cry-eating a bag of burger rings and sobbing “Why aren’t I better at this?”. Truth is, no one is better at this, we’re all just taking it day-by-day. And it’s impossible to see how everyone’s truly coping because everyone is pretty much locked up in their homes. This isn’t a competition to see who can remain stoic in the face of novel adversity, this is a “massive experiment in collective vulnerability”. Being vulnerable means being open to how you yourself are hurting and struggling right now.
- Practical Tip: Talk to friends and ask each other “How are you, really?” Don’t feel driven to give advice but let each other share honestly and openly. This will help you understand that we are all vulnerable, and struggling in our own ways.
2. Treat yourself like a complete child
This is hard to hear as a grown-ass adult. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Things are scary right now, and you might need to remind yourself, over and over “it’s okay to be scared!” Instead of admonishing yourself for being weak or fragile, accept yourself for being human. Let yourself cry if you need to. And give yourself a lollipop as a treat.
- Practical Tip: Journal gentle loving messages to yourself. Include soppy stuff like “I’m proud of you” and “I know it’s hard but you’re getting through this one day at a time.” If you’re concerned about getting overwhelmed by your emotions, set aside some “Feeling Time”. Schedule in a time to just explore your emotional state (our “Feeling Your Emotions meditation” in our GYST Online course is really helpful for this)
3. Stop convincing yourself that that article is a “must-read”
You know that 32nd New York Times article you read today about the growing number of people dying? or that day-by-day account that guy wrote about how his life was ravaged by virus? That information has not helped to keep you any more “informed” than you were yesterday. It’s great that there is so much content out there to inform and educate BUT you need to consume it mindfully, with an understanding of how it uniquely lingers inside your own mind and body. If you’re anxiety-prone, this media is gonna hit harder. So stop kidding yourself that you’re simply “staying up-to-date’ and put down the bloody iPhone.
- Practical Tip: Be strict with spending time offline and away from your computer and phone. Schedule activities that allow you to be free of technology, even if just for 15 or 20min. And at least try to put down your devices an hour before bed. It will really help with your ability to switch off, and improve your sleep quality.
4. Let yourself laugh about something
Laughing releases feel-good brain chemicals that can provide temporary pain relief. There is also a natural loosening that comes with laughter – it’s hard to stay wound up in a ball of tension when you’re chuckling loudly to a hilarious tweet or silly animal video. Catch up with friends who crack you up. Re-watch a favourite comedy. Make an effort to find some funny every day. It’s always a welcome relief.
- Practical Tip: Google lists for best comedies. Personally, I cannot go past Nathan For You, I Think You Should Leave and The Office (UK)
5. Move (even just up from where you are)
Physical activity is often prescribed to help combat the effects of anxiety but I’m not here to guilt you into signing up for a rigorous 60-day, at-home, tummy & tush toning program – you’ve probably got enough on your plate right now. It can be useful just to recognise when your anxiety starts to spiral and get up and move, up from where you are, into another room for a moment. Perhaps do some gentle stretching, go for a walk around the block (if restrictions allow) or challenge yourself to bust out a couple of push-ups or jumping jacks. Give your body an opportunity to take the stage and quiet your mind for a minute.
- Practical Tip: Set yourself a regular time to engage in at least 15-20min of movement. Right now, there are plenty of awesome wellness companies providing live streams and videos of workouts you can do from home. I’m loving @lucy_doherty and @scoutpilates on Instagram
6. Sensation seek (sensibly)
Anxiety has a hard time thriving in the present moment – it usually hangs out in the past or the future. So it can be useful to bring your body and mind into the now. If your mind is too wild to be reigned in by slow and controlled breathing exercises, you can enlist some more heightened sensory stimulation, such as taking a hot bath, standing under a cold shower, holding ice cubes over a sink, braiding your hair or mindfully massaging parts of your body. These methods offer a safe. manageable approach to attending to your senses.
- Practical Tip: Get smart at feeling out your anxiety – particularly when it starts to take you over. Don’t try to “push through it” or “get on with it”. Acknowledge that it’s there. Call it out (“I see you anxiety”). And practice some safe sensory stimulation that might offer some gentle relief.
7. Remember, your mates aren’t your therapists
It’s great to chat to friends about how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind. It’s important that we’re all open and supportive of one another in times like these. But it’s worth remembering that your mates might not have the capacity to advise or soothe you right now. If you’re feeling like your anxiety is taking over, get proactive and chat to a therapist. It’s easier than ever, with most practitioners offering online sessions, where they can tailor advice and strategies to you specifically.
I recognise that compiling a list such as this is partially indicative of my desire to “get rid of” my anxiety – and I know full well that that’s not how it works. One day, you might find soothing and relief in multiple places, other days, nothing works and everything sucks. On those sucky days, it’s important to be particularly gentle with yourself. The simple act of reading this (and pausing from all the chaos on social media for a moment) is an empowering and compassionate act towards yourself. If you’re looking for a little extra support during this time, our practitioners are all providing phone/Skype sessions so you can access therapy from home.
Please note: Sitting with emotions exercises are not recommended for those with acute trauma or PTSD – in these instances, it’s best to reach out to your practitioner for guidance and support during this time.