How can we cope with anxiety?
As we emerge back into the world, many of us are finding that we have lost confidence and our pre-pandemic way of life has become a bit scary.
We’re getting back to ‘normal’ activities, but they’re not as easy as before. All those simple things, like getting on a train, going to the cinema or heading back into the office, may be making you feel surprisingly anxious. Add into that mix worries about our older relatives and their own anxieties, and it could be that we need some coping strategies.
Here are 10 tips from mental health platform MYNDUP on how you can cope with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is that feeling of excess worry, fear and unease around things that are about to happen, or which we believe might happen.
We may all experience anxiety in different ways because our bodies perceive and react to a situation in different ways.
You might notice that your anxiety is sporadic and only really occurs before a particular event or situation in your life. Or your anxiety might be a more long-term build-up of ‘overthinking’. If that’s the case you may need the support of a therapist or someone you trust, particularly if it’s affecting your ability to live your life fully.
Understanding your personal triggers can often be quite challenging and involves self-reflection and awareness. But identifying your triggers can help you determine which of the coping strategies suggested below will help you in managing and overcoming your anxiety.
Get to know your anxiety
Keeping a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings freely can really help you to understand patterns and to analyse your behaviours.
With a journal, you can determine when your anxiety levels are at their highest or lowest. Writing emotions down, and tuning in to anxiety triggers, such as caffeine, alcohol consumption or certain situations, can help you proactively manage your symptoms and limit your exposure to them.
Focus on the moment
Mindfulness is something we often hear about but rarely practise, perhaps because we’re not quite sure if we’re getting it right. But if you take a few moments to become the observer of your thoughts, simply imagining them floating by, then you can detach from them and focus on the present moment.
By becoming aware of what is happening right here, right now, you can reduce the overwhelming worries you have about the future and bring yourself back to a state of calm.
Try incorporating the words ‘right now’ whenever your mind does wander. For example, ‘Right now, I’m enjoying this cup of tea” or ‘Right now, I’m making dinner’.
Accept that big changes are inevitable but choose to stay grounded and present on the current moment whenever your mind starts to wander.
Replace negative self-talk
It’s so easy to default straight away to negative self-talk whenever we feel anxious. We immediately overthink a situation and imagine the outcome to be far worse than it probably is.
But how you think about an event will affect how you experience it. Becoming aware of your self-talk allows you to change your thought patterns to more constructive thoughts.
This is why you should challenge negative thoughts of self-doubt whenever you find yourself thinking ‘What if it doesn’t work or what if I fail?’ You can reframe it, and ask yourself ‘Well, what if it does work and what if I do succeed?’
Control the controllable – and let the rest go
It can be really hard to stop worrying about things when you have anxiety and instantly expect the worst possible outcomes.
And there are some things in life over which we do have no control. But we also regularly worry about things that never actually happen.
Worry and stress over things that are out of your control is wasted energy. It’s better to focus instead on the present, and what you can do in this moment to stay happy.
What you could do is set aside specific time to worry. Or you could write your worries in a notebook, which will help you to feel you have some control over them.
Be kind to yourself
Try this. Imagine all the past versions of yourself standing in front of you. There’s the one who got rejected from a job interview, the one who cried themselves to sleep, the one who was seemingly broken beyond repair from a breakup, or the one who got angry with an ageing parent who was being particularly ‘difficult’.
Remind yourself of all the painful experiences that you didn’t think you would get through, until you did.
You are not the anxiety you’re experiencing. You are so much stronger than you imagine. And you’ll get through this challenge, the same way you got to this point today.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Regular exercise, eating healthily, sleeping well, spending time with friends and family, and taking part in in activities we enjoy all foster good emotions. That makes them all effective ways of reducing stress and anxiety.
Physical activity in particular increases your endorphins and ability to adopt positive thoughts and emotions. That in turn enables you to feel generally happier and more satisfied in life.
Slow down your breathing
Often when we feel anxious our breathing can speed up or reduce altogether.
But breathing exercises can instantly make you feel more in control by slowing down your heart rate and helping to calm you down.
Whenever you find yourself stressed, try breathing in for seven seconds, then out 11 seconds.
Or imagine a square, breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding for four seconds.
Find a breathing technique that works for you and encourages you to relax and regain calm in a challenging situation.
Connect with others
We can sometimes feel really isolated with our worries, and as though we are dealing with them alone, This can lead us to shyl away from social events and isolate ourselves during times of increased stress and pressure.
But connecting with others can help to remind us that we aren’t alone in anything we do.
Socialising, volunteering or pursuing an activity you enjoy will increase your sense of belonging and purpose. And often, by focusing on these events, you’ll be able to busy your mind from overthinking.
Try talk therapy
If your anxiety is long-term and deeply rooted, it can be helpful to speak to someone who can assist in discovering your anxiety triggers.
Sometimes our triggers may be obvious like caffeine or substance abuse. Or they may be less.
Limiting exposure to triggers can help you manage anxiety and talking through your problems with a therapist will help you to look at them in a different way, and feel more able to cope with them.
Explore Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be an effective tool in the treatment of long-term anxieties and panic disorders. It combines both thought patterns and actions towards events, so that you can address the assumptions that you might have created about yourself and the world.
CBT is similar to talk therapy, and while it can’t make problems completely disappear, it can encourage you to adopt healthier habits, respond to problems more positively and feel better overall.
If you found this article useful, you may like to read:
- Try these 5-minutes stressbusters for carers
- Advice on getting back to the office when it means leaving a parent alone
- How to care for a parent with dementia when you can’t cope yourself
Explore the topics mentioned further:
- How Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works
- Try the Head Space mindfulness app, recommended by the NHS
- Get a Mind Plan from the NHS-supported Every Mind Matters programme
Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels