After another year impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, it now seems as though a terrifyingly large number of us will be starting 2022 with either moderate or severe anxiety. This, of course, is largely down to the distressing events we’ve all been living through – none of which we thought we’d be carrying over into next year.
Many among us have spent the last year adjusting to regulations, scared to leave for fear of getting ill or passing on the virus, while others have been heroically battling it on the front line.
The Centre for Mental Health forecasts that in England alone, as many as 10 million people will need new or additional mental health support due to the pandemic of around 1.5 million children.
What makes the problem worse is that so many people will be unaware that what they’re feeling is anxiety and won’t know how to deal with it. Either that or they will have learned to live with it, viewing it as something they can’t control.
Yet, there is always hope. By understanding what anxiety is, we can identify how it affects us and what triggers it. Once we befriend it and begin to see it as a call to action rather than an uncontrollable affliction, we can develop coping techniques that allow us to find a sense of calm and balance in our lives.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural human response that we experience when we perceive we’re under threat. It helps us to avoid dangerous situations and motivates us to solve problems.
The difficulty arises when it starts to grow from mild and occasional into a full-blown anxiety disorder. This is when it starts to interfere with our daily lives, negatively impacting our hobbies, work, and relationships.
It’s important to remember, though, that many people don’t fit neatly into any one box. Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways and will vary from person to person.
What are the signs that what I’m feeling is anxiety?
There are three different types of manifestation when it comes to anxiety: physical, psychological and behavioural. Physical manifestations include sweating, dizziness, heart palpitations, shaking and restlessness.
Psychological manifestations include excessive worrying, a racing mind, difficulty concentrating, irritability, struggling to make decisions and unwanted, repetitive thoughts. Behavioural manifestations involve distancing yourself from loved ones, avoiding hobbies or social situations, and avoiding things that you find complex or challenging. If any of the above resonates with you, you might be suffering from anxiety.
How do I know if I’m feeling anxious?
Often, we find it hard to identify these physical, psychological, and behavioural manifestations at the moment, so it can help find a quiet moment at the end of the day to check in with yourself and reflect. The more you can practice this and get better at noticing patterns in how you’re feeling throughout the day, the easier it will be to deploy some activities that bring calm and balance.
What are some practical ways to manage anxiety?
While anxiety can sometimes be challenging to control, particularly during the current climate where there is so much uncertainty, there are a few fundamental things you can put in place to support yourself. Once you get these right, you’ll find yourself making great strides.
- Care. Create a habit of self-care that centres around the things that nurture your well-being. The points below will provide you with the essential building blocks.
- Sleep. Ensure you’re getting enough and that a good night’s sleep is part of your daily routine.
- Reduce. Cut down on things like caffeine and alcohol as these can aggravate our anxiety levels.
- Eat. Our natural tendency is to reach for the biscuit tin. But the best way to support ourselves is to think about the foods that nourish us and incorporate these into our diet.
- Wiggle. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise. Try to get outside for at least 20 minutes a day. This can help broaden your horizon and see the bigger picture; anxiety often causes a narrow focus.
- Create. As previously stated, hobbies are often the first things we drop when we’re feeling anxious, so try to make time for things like painting and baking – whatever it is you, love.
- Relax. This can come in many forms, such as yoga, mindfulness practice, reading a book or slowing down.
- Talk. You may be surprised by the connections you build by having the courage to acknowledge and share. Identify who in your social support network you can reach out to, whether that’s a family member, friend or your GP.
How can mindfulness help support us with anxiety?
Mindfulness can be an excellent remedy for those feeling anxious as it allows you to bring awareness into your lives. Once we start to listen to our mind and body and befriend anxiety by seeing it as a call to action for self-care, this is when we can begin to unravel the grip that it has on us. Rather than making efforts to stop feeling anxious, mindfulness enables us to lean into our discomfort and start responding with kindness gently.
Mindfulness can help us notice our thoughts and reflect on their origins in response to life events that can often trigger anxiety. It can also allow us to re-train the way we view our reviews, seeing them as mental events not happening ‘from’ us, but happening ‘to us.
For example, if you’re spending hours on end thinking about the same topic, asking questions such as ‘what if I get coronavirus?’ ‘What if I pass it on?’ mindfulness can help you to disassociate from these thoughts helpfully.
When we start to notice our thoughts, we’re better placed to understand where anxiety’s physical and psychological manifestations come from. When you’re feeling agitated and your head is busy, here are a few mindfulness practices you can try:
- The physiological sigh. When in doubt, sigh it out. Take two deep breaths in, and then let it go. This does two things: it helps us rebalance oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the bloodstream, also tells our neurological system that everything is fine.
- Get into your senses. So many of us spend all of our time in our heads, so tapping into our senses can help us find balance. Explore your surroundings using all of your senses.
- Start small. You might feel tempted to go on a 5-mile run to finish that book or meditate for an hour. But a couple of breaths is sometimes all you need. Try the five-finger breathing exercise where you use your index finger to trace the outline of your other hand or alternate nostril breathing.
By continuously working on these functional building blocks for self-care and bringing some more mindfulness to your life, you will begin to see something significant: you are not your anxiety; you are a person who may be experiencing a spell of anxiety. We’re all going through some difficult times at the moment, and it’s okay not to feel your best. But always remember that you are much more than the sum of anxiety and its parts.