Coping with Anxiety
The world is full of uncertainty at the moment. Anxiety as well as other mental health problems have got worse, more than half (60%) of adults and over two thirds (68%) of young people have claimed their mental health has deteriorated throughout this time. So I wanted to write this post to help you understand anxiety, what it is, what the effects are and how to cope if you are suffering right now.
Anxiety is something that I have struggled with for the best part of my life. I have many anxieties and insecurities that I will get hooked into and focus on way more than I should. One of my anxieties is: no one likes me. Outwardly, I will be as cool as a cucumber, smiling, laughing and joking but the inside of my head will be exploding with voices and chatter. "you shouldn't have said that, now they won't talk you again", "You have just hurt her, what have you done?" "He is looking at you with disgust". On and on it goes until I will eventually hide from the world and isolate myself because I genuinely think these things are true. But here's the thing...
What is Anxiety?
The definition on the NHS website for Anxiety is "a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe". Although factually, this is correct, anxiety is so much more than that and I explain why below.
Although anxiety can sometimes feel like this big scary thing that is powerful and overwhelming, it really isn't...Anxiety is just an emotion. It is a normal, emotion which is there to protect us through life. In early civilisation, anxiety was used to help detect danger, helped us to be cautious when we needed to be and kept us within our tribes for safety. However, these dangers have now disappeared and new perceived new ones have taken their place. Anxiety is a healthy feeling (albeit unpleasant), it only becomes an issue, like any emotion, when it takes over your life.
I see anxiety in three ways. There are anxieties which are linked to your insecurities, there are anxieties which are linked to uncertainty and there anxieties which are linked to the misalignment of your head and your heart.
When you feel insure about something that is connected to you, it can heighten your anxiety around it. So, for example, I was afraid that no one liked me, that I wasn't accepted, and as a result, this arose anxiety within me whenever I was around others and I would constantly analyse and control myself, my actions and my words with them because I felt anxious and insecure.
Anxiety can also arise when we are frightened of the unknown. When we don't know what is going to happen, our brain comes alive and we enact extreme scenarios within our mind of what could possibly happen and then acting upon them when they may not have any basis in reality. So, using the pandemic as an example, Covid 19 hit the world and because we had no idea what was going to happen, most of the world went under a state of anxiety and panic. Some of us panic bought items, some of us were scared that we would never be able to leave the house again and some of us were theorising that we were going be ruled by the army and become part of a dictatorship...
Misalignment of head and heart
This is when you do something that you don't necessarily agree with. So for example, when I was asked to go to the house of a person I wasn't really fond of. Although I knew in my heart that I didn't want to go, my head would tell me I would have to go because that was the right thing to do. This created friction and resistance within myself because I was conflicted - it is this conflict which can create anxiety.
The effects of anxiety
Depending on the level of which you suffer with anxiety (healthy, mild, severe), you could be effected in a number of different ways...
One of the main effects of anxiety is overthinking. This means that you think about and analyse a scenario (real or perceived) over and over (and over and over) again...This overthinking can be conscious thinking or speaking - so when you analyse that guy's text message and you spend hours with your friends trying to figure out what he meant. Or, those famous moments which you deeply regret from 20 years ago which you feel the need to remind yourself of and feel shame. Or it could be subconscious where you find it hard to concentrate or sleep because you still have that voice in the back of your head going round and round in circles.
Thinking is healthy to a point. If you can analyse and then decide on an answer or choose to leave the subject alone - you are OK. Overthinking becomes a problem when your mind spirals out of control which can lead to false beliefs, panic attacks and depression.
Anxiety, through overthinking and creating false scenarios, can lead to false beliefs about yourself, other people or the world around you. As I said before, anxiety lies, therefore you could hold false beliefs which could limit you and your capability, limit your relationships and your connection with the outside world.
I have had my fair share of these! When your anxiety and your mind get so overwhelming and you become so consumed that a sense of panic takes hold of your body which restricts your breath, impacts your ability to see and think clearly and effects your ability to move properly.
Panic attacks can be quite mild, where you can be visibly fine to others but inside you are struggling. You can feel a shortness of breath, your temperature rising and your mind is racing through scenarios and chatter but you are still able to keep your composure. Or they can be quite severe where you are knocked down, crouching in a corner, not able to breathe or process anything around you. It can literally feel like the world is on top of you and you are completely overwhelmed.
Mild depression can be caused by a mixture of the above - where overthinking has spiralled and led you down a dark path and you now have false, limiting beliefs about yourself which you are immersed in and believe to be factual (when in reality they probably are not!). As a result, you would be sent into a depressive state where you are overwhelmed with negative emotions and you have very little energy.
When I first started BlissBox, I had convinced myself that I was not capable of running a business. I wasn't confident enough to portray myself online, my BlissBoxes were not good enough for my customers and I didn't know enough to help people. I would spiral all the time and send myself into a depressive state where I would just give up. During this time I would cry all the time, I would isolate myself and spend a lot of time in bed. There has been a number of instances where I nearly shut BlissBox down because I couldn't mentally conceive that I was good enough. Luckily, I got the help I needed and am able to pull myself out of these depressive states quicker and even prevent them altogether!
Because of the sheer amount of energy it takes to ruminate over something, being anxious is draining. Your mind is racing so is being overworked which then causes your body to tense up and stress which means you are both mentally and physically exhausted.
Stress related illnesses
Being exhausted and stressed can create stress related illnesses which are directly caused by anxiety. These could vary from illnesses such as headaches, IBS and obesity to heart disease, asthma and even premature death.
Anxiety can lead to overworking, where you feel the need to just keep going and going. Most people will work as much as they can, stop and rest for a little while and then begin working when they are able to. Anxiety will force you to keep working through your tiredness because you have this irrational need to complete everything and to do so as fast as you possibly can. This is usually accompanied by a "buzz" feeling, it can feel thrilling and exciting but it's actually anxiety.
Anxiety creates perfectionism. The need to be perfect to avoid being wrong, criticised or rejected means you go to great lengths to ensure that no mistakes are made and that you are in control of everything. Do you ever find yourself reading, rereading and rereading an email or a text that you have written over and over again to make sure that everything is absolutely as it should be? Or do you feel like you must take charge of a particular task because no one else will do it right? - This is anxiety.
Coping with Anxiety
Over the years, I have found a number of different ways to cope (and in some cases prevent) with anxiety, I have listed some below...
Doing some form of exercise whether it be a full gym session or a simple walk around the block can alleviate anxiety. Not only does it prove to be a good distraction and helps to relieve tension but it releases feel good hormones which push your anxiety aside every time.
Spend time in nature
Taking the time to immerse yourself in nature can be healing, soothing and restoring as nature reduces negative emotions like anxiety, fear and anger and helps to increase warmer feelings. This then reduces your blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension which is good for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Releasing your anxiety and confiding in a close friend, family member or a professional can help. Just letting your anxious thoughts out can give you the relief you need so you don't go into that deep dark spiral. Others can provide you with insight, opinions, advice and assistance to help you through a difficult situation, or they can serve as sounding boards to help you process your thoughts and emotions. Generally, people are understanding and supportive and will do what they can to assist - use them!
If you feel uncomfortable speaking to others and you would prefer to keep your thoughts to yourself, try journaling. Get yourself a journal (a plain notebook will do - I use a scrapbook or word on my PC) and just write. Write whatever you like, your thoughts, your feelings, what happened in your day...If you need a release, then release! Let go of all those thoughts you have running around in your head and put them all down on paper, it will leave your head feeling clear, fresh and relieved.
Bringing yourself into the present moment
Bringing yourself back to the present moment is a great way of getting yourself out of overthinking cycles. Meditation is ideal for this, simply bringing awareness within yourself, your mind and your breath can bring you calm. However, meditation doesn't work for everyone and if you are one of these people, the art of distraction can be just as effective.
The art of distraction can work perfectly when you are anxious. This can stop you from overthinking and bring you back into the present moment just like meditation, except you focus on something else you enjoy. Like listening to some uplifting music, putting on your favourite film, reading a book, playing a game, doing a puzzle or getting creative with arts and crafts!
I love to clean. Cleaning gives me satisfaction in so many different ways. Not only does it provide me with movement and exercise which releases the feel good hormones but it also gives me a sense of achievement because I have physically made a difference to my surroundings and achieved something. Alongside this, as Gretchen Rubin says, "outer order creates inner calm" which means that if your surroundings are nice and tidy, your mind will be too...Try organising your desk or a draw, you'll see what I mean!
Schedule a time for worry
Literally schedule half an hour in your day to worry. The problem with anxiety and worry is it can take up so much space in your mind and so much time in your life and it is such a waste of energy! However, if you schedule in your time to worry - say 6 to 6:30 in the evening, you can save all of your worrying until that point - worry - and then let it all go after the time is up. If you think of things throughout the day to worry about, make a note and save it for your worry time. Journaling in your worry time or talking to a friend can also be a good way to release during this half hour.
Why not practise a little active self-care and pamper yourself. Get a facemask on, jump into a nice bubble bath and put on some Enya...Watch your anxiety float away while you relax, unwind and take a little break from everything.
Immerse yourself in cold water
If you are looking for a quick solution to your anxiety, especially if you are having a panic attack - immerse yourself in cold water. Having a cold bath/shower or just dipping your face into a bit of cold water can quickly and effectively give your body the shock it needs to bring yourself back into the present moment.
Sometimes a nice self-hug or an embrace from another is enough to sort us out. Finding comfort in a hug can improve our feeling of connection and fulfil our need to be wanted - either by ourselves or another. Also, you can cuddle up with a nice soft blanket or pillow to find comfort or wrap yourself in a nice cosy jumper.
Keeping your body at optimum level
What you eat/drink...
Did you know that what you consume can impact your anxiety levels? Alcohol, Nicotine, Caffeine and other mood enhancing chemicals/drugs can increase the effect and intensity of anxiety by altering chemicals in your brain. Unhealthy foods have the same affect as your body is not getting what it needs to work at it's most optimum level so you will find that the more unhealthy the meal, the more effect this has on the intensity of your anxiety. Eating and drinking healthier, will make you a healthier and happier person in general.
Sleep also has a large effect on your anxiety levels. Sleep effects our moods and our emotions. When our body is in need of rest, the more intense our emotions become - if you are feeling anxious about something, this feeling will be magnified and you will have less energy to control it. Allow yourself to get the rest you need to make sure you are keeping your body working at it's most optimum level.
Look at the people around you
Do the people around you trigger your anxiety? If you have surrounded yourself with people who provoke your anxiety, you may want to consider setting boundaries and creating distance between yourself and these people. You teach people how you want to be treated by showing them what you will and will not tolerate. Once you made yourself heard and made your stance clear, you won't feel anxious anymore.
Align your head and heart
So long as there is conflict within you - between your heart and mind, you will always feel anxiety. Understand what you want and decide what you feel is right and just do that. Whether this be making a decision to do something, sticking to it and accept the consequences or choosing not to do something, sticking to it and accept the consequences. Either way, align your head and heart so they are both in agreement to reduce anxiety.
Look at things rationally
Easier said than done, I know. However, have you just sat and listened to your anxious chatter and actually looked at whether any of it was real? As I said before, Anxiety lies - most of our anxieties are of our own making and what we may think is real in our minds is actually what we perceive and has no bearing on reality at all!
For example, I went out on the town on a Friday night with a friend. We had a great time, we were laughing, socialising and dancing the night away. A few days later, she apologised to me because she thought she had upset me. I told her that I had no idea what she was talking about and that I had a great time! It turned out that she spent the whole weekend overthinking and panicking as she thought she may have said something out of turn to me and made up a load of scenarios in her head which were in fact not true!
When you are feeling anxious and you are in the overthinking stage, stick to the facts. What is real. If it helps, confide in a friend to process or confront the problem head on to get the facts rather than leave your mind to stew away.
Remind yourself of your good points
If you get anxiety around your insecurities, a great way to overcome this anxiety is to remember what your good points are. Write all the things you love about yourself on post-it notes and stick them around your home. "I am beautiful" on the bathroom mirror, "I am disciplined" on the fridge, "I accept myself" above your bed. Write whatever you want yourself to remember in those moments of need to help you overcome your anxiety and accept your insecurities.
Don't take life or yourself so seriously!
Life is just that - life. You are going to have good days and you are also going to have bad days. Try not to get so lost in your mind or in the drama of every day life because in the grand scheme of things - these don't matter. Start remembering to be grateful for everything you do have, appreciate the little pleasures in life and actually live through each beautiful moment of your life! Stop thinking and start living!
Anxiety is just an emotion. A normal, healthy, natural emotion and only becomes a problem when, like with any emotion, it takes over your life. I hope, with a little clarity and understanding of anxiety as a whole, it will help you to understand and process your own anxieties and cope better in your own lives as a result.
Sending you love and peace,