Anxiety is that feeling of inner disquiet, signalling that something either within us or in our environment is beyond our control, which could result in an outcome we fear or dread and which could be real or imagined.
Have you noticed how your mind can twist and manipulate the information at hand leading to catastrophic thinking? We have a negative bias meaning that anything of a negative nature has a more dramatic impact on us compared to positive events by a ratio of around 3 to 1.
With the 24/7 news coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic updating us every five minutes with more bad news, it’s easy to get sucked into a downward negative vortex. Because our emotions are contagious, if you’re in a state of anxiety, those vibes will spread to those around you which could be your kids or your partner, their anxiety will add further fuel to what you’re already experiencing.
As Easter approaches, we have the perfect opportunity to spend some time with our nearest and dearest either together or virtually, to reflect on our feelings, acknowledge their presence and determine what will help us all to feel a little bit better.
Here are five ways to reduce your anxiety and raise hope.
1. Put your feelings into words
Acknowledging how you feel helps to reduce the intensity of your feelings. Just take a moment to ask yourself “how am I feeling today?”. You may be experiencing a mixture of different emotions – this is completely normal so don’t be concerned if you’re experiencing anxiety along with a bit of anger or grief as well as curiosity, hope and excitement.
Sharing your feelings allows others to understand how you are at this time and for you to get what someone else might be feeling. If you are a parent, hearing what your child is feeling helps you to help them if they are fearful or worried.
The worst thing to do with our feelings is to ignore them, bury them deep out of sight and carry on if everything is fine. That is definitely not fine because it can add to the physical stress your body is experiencing, which can have a negative impact on your immune system.
Suppressing your feelings, especially when conducted over time can aggravate the original emotion causing you more pain in the longer term.
Remember every feeling, positive or negative, is always temporary. These too will pass.
You can think of your emotions as waves of energy. Some of those bigger waves will crash against you, the smaller may just lap at your feet. What helps is to notice the wave, and let it pass.
2. Use mindfulness to boost your mental wellbeing and spark greater joy
What gives you joy? We feel joy when we witness the beauty of the world around us; the stars in the night sky, the morning dew on the grass or the sound of birdsong. You can cultivate joy by mindfully paying attention to the sensation of warm sunshine on your back, hearing the chatter and laughter of other people, to the smile shared as you cross paths with a fellow morning exerciser pounding the pavement.
Mindfulness is an appreciation of what’s happening in the here and now. It’s a mental discipline that can be developed just like your other mental muscles and practised as a formal meditation or informal mindful moment.
And don’t forget to share what gives you joy. This strengthens your positive feelings making them easier to access in the future and will raise the spirits of those you tell.
If something makes you happy, grab it with both hands and show others what you’re feeling. When our daughter’s partner was recently accepted into the Police Force the whole family rejoiced. We couldn’t give him a hug, but we could jump up and down, wave our arms around in triumph and clap. It made us all feel good.
3. Do something nice just for you.
It’s Easter, a time for (amongst other things) hot-cross buns and chocolate Easter eggs. Why not reward yourself in some small way to make yourself feel better.
Caveat; eating that entire one kg chocolate bunny in one sitting might be self-indulgence overkill. You might seek to justify this by noting it’s dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids, but those additional calories in the form of fat and sugar that leap onto your thighs with gay abandon may temper your good mood over the weeks to follow.
Travel to a place you’ve always wanted to visit. This is where virtual reality can be a real help or tune into what’s online. There are many documentaries to take you to those other destinations and now museums and galleries are creating in-house videos to show you the art and treasures within.
Exploring different cultures and the arts in this way opens you up to new perspectives and is a great distraction from your worries.
Have some fun. It’s OK. If you want to unleash your inner Van Gogh, go for it. Need a bit of a pick me up with a laugh find a funny quote, print it out and keep it somewhere visible to remind you of what makes you smile.
4. Get physical.
There are two aspects to consider here.
Firstly, getting physical is a great way to relieve tension, frustration or anger. If you don’t have a punching bag, a pillow will do. Pummelling your pillow or mattress for a couple of minutes should do the trick. Or go for a run which is the second aspect.
Physical activity is a brilliant way to alleviate stress and anxiety. While twenty minutes is enough to help calm you down, topping 30 minutes is the best antidote to alleviate anxiety.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how going for a walk helps to clear your head and improve your mood?
It’s the consistency of the activity over time that counts.
Getting regular exercise is key to greater mental wellbeing, not least because it leads to the release of those feel-good hormones – dopamine, serotonin and endorphins – while negating the impact of stress and lowering cortisol levels.
But being stuck at home or feeling down can put a huge dampener on your enthusiasm for exercise, which is an even bigger problem if you’ve never been one for more exercise anyway.
However, finding the motivation, even when you dislike exercise, is made easier by one small thing:
If you hate how you feel, and anxiety is your middle name you don’t have to stay feeling this way. Choosing exercise – you can think of it as medicine for your mind – is backed up by a great deal of research that shows it works.
You might even find some form of physical activity you enjoy. Bingo! Now you’ve got the added bonus of doing something you look forward to. Bring on the joy.
5. Help somebody else.
Anxiety can feel all-consuming but doing something for someone else is a great anxiety buster. Donating your time or money is a feel-good activity that stimulates the part of your brain leading to an enhanced sense of purpose and meaning, makes you feel closer and more connected to others, makes you feel useful and serves as a reminder that despite our dark days, others are doing it equally tough.
How many random acts of kindness can you do each day? The more you give, the greater the positive payback with research showing how five acts of kindness each day raises your level of happiness.
This can be something as simple as sharing some baked goods. Inspired by fabulous pictures of friends baking hot-cross buns, I thought I might do the same – I just call mine rock cakes.
Providing something in short supply. Beyond loo rolls, we were recently caught short of facial tissues at a time when the common cold hit and one of our beautiful neighbours popped round with a spare box. So much nicer for a sore nose than loo paper.
Donate your time to the most vulnerable – whether a soup kitchen, food bank or charity. Volunteers are the backbone that enable many charitable organisations to survive. Putting a smile on another’s face is wealth indeed and lowers stress all round.
Declutter and tidy up. It seems everyone I speak to is on a mission. Garages are being tidied, lawns are being mown, wardrobes are being sorted and I hear many tales of gratitude for having the time to take on these overdue tasks and projects. It helps us to feel like we’re doing something useful and completing that task is oh so rewarding. More dopamine cupcakes, please.
In times of adversity, it’s normal to experience distress, fear or anxiety. But these feelings don’t have to dominate every thought. Seeking out ways to alleviate some of the intensity of those negative emotions help pave the way to greater resilience, connecting us to the positives, the joy, hope and optimism required to see us through to the other side.
It’s all part of developing a thriving mind, a mind that takes the rough with the smooth to create a new, better, healthier you.