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What is Anxiety? ‘A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.’ - Oxford English Dictionary
Your chest is tight and you are finding it hard to get a full breath in - Your breathing is shallow - You feel on edge - Your mouth is dry - Your shoulders are curved in - Your stomach may feel like its flipping inside or tight/tense- You may be speaking too fast - You may have tunnel vision and more.
Does this sound familiar?
Anxiety is a word that has become all too common over the past 18 months. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic it was a word that perhaps we might not have typically used about ourselves. However, Covid-19 has touched us all in different ways and now this feels more relevant and closer to home.
Uncertainty is something we may have experienced over the past 18 months, whether that is related to work, travel, relationships or health; and as such it may come as no surprise to learn that anxiety rates have soared during the pandemic and due to uncertainties for businesses due to Brexit as well.
Anxiety is a completely normal human response, which can range from mild symptoms, such as feeling nervous or tense to more severe symptoms which can hinder everyday tasks. In times of uncertainty, anxiety is to be expected.
So, as we continue to navigate the uncertainties that coronavirus has to offer, there are some helpful tools that we can use every day to help manage our feelings of anxiety and leave us feeling more in control.
Social media has been a great way to keep in contact with friends and loved ones. Let’s not underestimate how powerful it has been in connecting us safely whilst in isolation - for some it was a life line. However, it’s also important to understand that social media isn’t always the best place to turn to for factual, evidenced based knowledge and guidance. Trending stories may not always present a balanced picture of actual situations where sensationalism or playing on our fears is more likely to catch our attention (fulfilling any fears we may already have). The number of likes or comments on a post does not equate to the validation of evidence, all it demonstrates is the number of people who have seen the post.
Therefore, turning to trusted sources is key when it comes to managing the validity of information we consume. If we place importance on accuracy and substantiated facts as opposed to popularity, we can start to take more control.
Our brains are super powerful when it comes to processing data and in particular filtering information in. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a network of nerves that act like a net, which filters out unnecessary information, allowing us to concentrate on what we focus on. So, when we are anxious and focus on our worries, our brain will filter in more information that will support these fears and as such exacerbate your anxiety further. In the same way, if you were to focus more on positive outcomes and expectations your trusty RAS would filter in information that supports those beliefs, wishes, feelings as well. So, if we are to feel better, we need to start focusing on what we do want to draw into our lives in terms of feelings, thoughts, beliefs and outcomes that will make us feel happy and balanced again. Some use affirmations, some turn to their faith, some visualise to achieve this and some just focus all their attention on things that make them feel calm, relaxed and content.
It may sound like an impossible task to control this, however there is a very simple step you can take in trying to manage this. Like with social media, having a good handle on the amount of exposure to the wrong kind of information can prevent us from spiralling out of control. So, perhaps listening to the news once per day is enough for you to get the information you need without overload, and give you more of a sense of balance.
Sharing how your fears or anxiety with others may feel daunting and not something you feel ready to do. Perhaps you don’t know where to start or are concerned that you may not be understood. Believe it or not, these are very common concerns.
However, being able to share your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one can help you to air these negative thoughts and feelings, releasing their grip over you once spoken about out loud. Anxiety can make you imagine things to be much worse than they actually are, so sharing how you feel with another can also help you put these thoughts into perspective.
Negative thoughts can easily be magnified into something much more overwhelming, so breaking this chain with honest communication can prove to be very beneficial. Talking doesn’t have to be a face-to-face sit-down affair, getting out for a casual walk and a chat with a friend can be a great way to conquer the feelings of apprehension when it comes to talking to someone and it's less pressured as you are also walking. Walking is great for helping your body get rid of the chemicals it automatically creates when you feel anxious too - so a double advantage.
If you live with others, being open and honest can help minimise feelings of anxiety whilst also avoiding conflict. It’s important to understand that without communicating how you feel, it may be impossible for others to really support you and vice-versa. Also, you can bet if you are feeling this way it is likely others may have too so you can even help each other. A problem shared is a problem halved. Being the first to raise it may give others permission as well.
We are used to a world full of demands. Our fast-paced lives have required us to be on the ball all the time, but the reality is, right now, cutting yourself some slack is essential if you feel anxious or overwhelmed- it is to be expected and makes you human.
In times of uncertainty, it is essential to be patient, not just with others, but also yourself. Where we have been used to throwing ourselves into busy routines; these sudden changes which have forced us to change our daily habits, may leave you feeling uncomfortable and uncertain but also you may find you beat yourself up with shaming words if you are holding back from getting back out there, or going beyond your comfort zone.
Allow yourself time to adjust to these new circumstances, don’t minimise how you feel but also slowly expose yourself more and more to the things you used to do or wish to do and celebrate each time you push the boundaries further out and do more this all informs that RAS your filtering system and it will support you.
‘Creativity is intelligence having fun.’
Creating space for things that you enjoy is an essential part of looking after ourselves and self-care. Perhaps prior to the pandemic you might have simply not felt you had time to add this to your busy schedule. Or were you great at self-care when in full lock down but now it has gone on a back burner as you return to your pre-pandemic routines? The reality is however, that selfcare plays an essential part in reducing anxiety and depression in all our lives and now more than ever that is clearer.
Whether you are looking to pick up an old hobby or want to try something new, ring-fencing time for your mind to concentrate on something else can provide fundamental respite from worries.
Need some inspiration? You don’t need to spend a fortune in finding something new:
Now that we are coming out of lockdown you don’t need to become a social butterfly and throw yourself at every event going just to please others
Getting back out there can be as simple as meeting a friend for coffee or going to the hairdresser. Building up slowly and taking things at your own pace will help you feel more in control. Setting boundaries with others when it comes to social gatherings can also positively help de-pressure the experience; as will planning before going. These steps can help manage expectations and become a great blueprint for building up when you feel ready.
The most important thing to understand is that help is there when you need it. Counselling can be an effective and nurturing environment for you to explore and process your feelings in a safe and supportive space, helping you feel more relaxed and happier. For some anxiety has been in their lives for years whilst others have only been feeling it about particular events in their lives. The key is not to suffer with it on your own.
What are your first thoughts when you hear the words ‘peace’ or ‘pleasure’? For some, the words may be associated with each other even possibly used interchangeably, but in reality, there is a very distinct difference as observed by Jay Shetty.
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