I first started thinking about this post in mid-December. Back then, I was thinking about how many things there are at the moment to be anxious about. Wow! How much has changed in the few weeks that have passed since. It’s been a festive season like no other and every day has felt like the news brought more reasons to be anxious or stressed.
Let’s take stock for a moment
Anxiety and stress are tricky things. They can take many forms, creep up on you slowly, and they bring with them many consequences. But the important thing to bear in mind if you’re feeling anxious is, that it’s perfectly normal, particularly bearing in mind current events, and there is much you can do to help (playing with kittens is one of them 😊). Let’s break it down.
Stress and anxiety take many forms
From a racing heart and full-blown panic attacks, to sleepless nights, loss of appetite, indigestion, weight gain, headaches, bursts of anger or feelings of sorrow, anxiety manifests itself in many ways. There is no one size fits all which means it’s important to be conscious of how you are feeling. For example, if you suddenly find yourself suffering with IBS, think about your wider circumstances. Are you worried about work? About COVID 19, about family? If you can’t seem to lose weight however hard you try, ask yourself what else is going on in your life. I can’t promise that a less stressful life will cure all your health problems, but you can be confident that a stressful life filled with anxiety will nearly always make them worse.
The cumulative effect
Let’s not underestimate the cumulative effect of the current pandemic. You may believe yourself to be resilient but the relentless tidal wave of bad news, week after week, over the last 10 months is likely to have had a significant impact on most people’s state of mind. This is not a weakness. Universally, we are mentally tired. Each day we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after another wave of bad news. Not seeing family for Christmas. Moving into Tier 4. Closing our doors. Closing our schools. Going back into lockdown. It has felt like every time we take a step forward (cue the vaccine) we take two steps back (cue the new variant of COVID 19 and concerns about whether the vaccine is safe or effective). The reality is, that it is almost impossible to live through a pandemic without feeling some level of anxiety, and these feelings can build quietly and go unnoticed over time.
All of which means that as we start the new year, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect and ask yourself how you are and how you have coped. Take a moment to look back on how you’ve dealt with and how you’re feeling about 2020 as well as the challenges ahead. How is your general physical health and how do you feel mentally? What about your relationships and your overall sense of wellbeing? Do you have a sense of community and support or do you feel quite isolated?
Managing anxiety can be a challenge. After all, how do you get your mind to be calm and stop rampaging, particularly with the news and social media constantly reminding us about increasing infection rates, restrictions of work, travel, socialising and a struggling economy. But the good news is, that simply by recognising your anxious, you’ve taken an important first step. With that in mind, now let’s explore what else you can do that will help:
Talk to someone
Talking to someone can make a real difference. It might be a family member or friend, or you may find a support group on social media. If you’re really struggling, you can call a help line such as the Anxiety UK helpline. If you can, choose someone who will be there to support you in the coming months and who is willing and able to listen. You don’t have to be able to meet, because these days you can use Zoom, Skype, Messenger or whatever medium you feel comfortable with to keep in touch.
It’s also worth exploring other coping strategies.
· Writing. Does it help to write your worries down? What about spending a little time each day acknowledging your anxieties (rather than trying to suppress them) or journaling about how you feel.
· Gentle breathing exercises can be surprisingly helpful. For example, every time you start to feel anxious, take yourself to one side and try some box breathing (breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, repeat) for a few moments. There are lots of different breathing exercises you can try and if you want any recommendations, just get in touch.
· Fresh air. For some of us, getting outside isn’t easy at the moment but it can be a great boost. Try and get to your local park, or footpath but if you can’t, can you manage 5 minutes in the garden, on the balcony or can you just snatch a coffee at the backdoor and take a moment to look at the sky, the weather and any wildlife?
· Exercise. Exercise can be a great way of coping with anxiety with the added bonus of often being free. Whatever your circumstances try and think of something you can do to keep active. Walking, running or cycling are great but if you’re stuck indoors, what about an online class, 5 minutes of stretching, or some Pilates?
From essential oils to acupuncture and massage, there are a host of complementary therapies you can call on to help you manage anxiety, and they can help with a range of symptoms from sleepless nights to IBS, and general relaxation.
Lavender oil can help with sleep and anxiety, Rose oil can help with feelings of calm and reduces any tension, and Vetiver, Chamomile and Jasmine oils are commonly used for emotional stress, anxiety, and panic attacks. Ylang Ylang and Frankincense oil are both used for mood lifting and wellbeing boosts.
Meditation and yoga
Meditation and yoga, particularly when practised with breathing exercises, can also be extremely beneficial and aren’t as hard as you may think. If you can, just find 5 minutes to sit quietly. Focus on your breathing for a bit and think about what you can hear, what you can feel and how you feel. Don’t worry if thoughts keep popping into your head. Just acknowledge them and then park them up. If you need help with some simple yoga moves or meditation to get you started, please get in touch.
Traditional Chinese medicine has long recognised acupuncture as a way of helping anxiety and it can be effective on different levels. To start with, the mere process of taking time out to sit quietly during an acupuncture session can, on its own, provide a much needed and rare chance to relax and be calm.
On a deeper level, acupuncture works to redress any physical and emotional imbalances, allowing your body’s natural energies to flow effectively and bringing you an increased sense of harmony and wellbeing. You might find that a treatment for anxiety alleviates a physical problem elsewhere, perhaps something that you never associated with anxiety. Or you may just feel better overall. Importantly, an acupuncturist will work with you, discussing your general lifestyle and identifying other ways you may be able to reduce your anxiety. I discussed some of these in my blog last year, so do please feel free to take a look.
The good news is, that despite the current restrictions, I can offer 30 minutes Zoom acupressure sessions. My experience and feedback in respect of these so far has been amazing, especially in respect of anxiety. Sometimes all that’s is needed is one session, but a regular appointment is a great way to manage the anxiety and stresses ahead. You can book a session here: https://calendly.com/daria-masterman/30-minutes-zoom-call
Light at the end of the tunnel
Whilst the news has been pretty grim of late, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s important to regularly remind ourselves that despite the challenges ahead, we will get through this dark time. But if we’ve learnt anything from the last 10 months, it’s surely that self-care needs to become a priority if we’re going to remain strong, resilient and able to cope. In a time when it’s not possible to get together, it’s also more important than ever that we should feel able to reach out and ask for support. I’m here if you need any help, so get in touch and please don’t struggle with anxiety alone.