As a perfectionist, over thinker and high achiever I have always been riddled with anxiety and self-doubt.
Whenever I’ve found myself in a situation where I was going to have to push myself out of my comfort zone, like deciding to learn how to speak effectively in public, I would jump in feet first and immerse myself with all the minutiae to ensure I had all the information, all the resources, all the prep done, to ensure the outcome would be good enough to get a “pass.”
Having been brought up with a strong work ethic I was taught to believe the only way to succeed was through sheer hard work and then some. So, I have always worked hard, always been the one who stayed back to complete my work or go the extra yard, especially if to help someone else.
The only problem being this did nothing do quell my anxiety, quite the reverse and even when feedback was good, my internal response to any praise has been:
“it could have been better.”
“I forgot to share the best quote.”
“they’re just being kind.”
I’ve had to learn a few tricks over the years to manage my anxiety. Because it never entirely goes away even when I’m feeling good and more relaxed.
And that’s a good thing by the way because anxiety has a useful purpose. It provides a sense of what to expect. It helps us prepare for our future and seeing how we spend half our time awake either future planning or worrying about what’s happened in the past there’s plenty of opportunity to entertain all those hopes and fears to envision what we want our future to look like.
One of the first lessons I learned about my anxiety was to embrace it for what it is and accept as part of my being. By choosing not to fight it so hard, it’s been easier to cope with – for the most part.
Enter Stage Left the Covid-19 pandemic.
Oh boy, there’s nothing like a good crisis to wind those emotions up. From the initial “it’ll be OK, it probably won’t be as bad as we think” to the harsh reality this IS a pandemic, people are dying, losing their jobs and we’re in this for the long haul, my emotions have been bobbing around all over the place.
Some days I feel quite calm and happy. As an introvert I love the associated peace and quiet our new way of being has delivered.
Some days I feel despair. My business has been upended and there’s a torrent of uncertainty of how best to reset, reimagine and rebuild.
Other days I’m just anxious – not so much for myself, but for my family, my friends and our community, and for those I know who are doing it really tough, like those with life-threatening illness (non-Covid-19 related)
In the BP (before pandemic) era, anxiety was a well-recognised menace to many.
According to Beyond Blue 1:6 Australians are currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both. Seventeen percent of the population or 3.2 million people have experienced anxiety or an affective disorder in the last 12 months.
As a Doctor, I have looked after many people who struggle with anxiety in their life where it has affected their ability to function normally, to hold down a job, to make a decision, to be able to leave the house.
As a workplace wellness consultant, I have worked with individuals seeking assistance because their anxiety has become so overwhelming it’s impacted their ability to work or to work to the level, they know they are capable of.
As a human, I have had first-hand experience of learning to live with anxiety.
There are a number of science-backed strategies shown to help. Here are five tips to get you started.
Taming anxiety frenzy
Tough, I know, but letting go of that wriggly snake will allow you to see anxiety for what it is. It’s a way of planning for what’s next – and that’s really helpful even when mired in uncertainty and lack of answers.
Anxiety is a normal experience – acceptance will help you moderate the overwhelm.
- Get better at sitting in discomfort
When I was first introduced to mindfulness meditation, I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to sit and focus on my breathing for more than a minute. The very thought of it made me anxious – and yet, by being willing to give it a try I found that little by little day by day, week by week it became easier to sit in that space and I started to look forward to that quiet time where I could reconnect to greater inner peace and calm.
Sometimes we have to go to that place that causes us pain in order to find relief.
As a practice, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress, quietening down all that (usually negative) monkey chatter in your head and helps you to find that clarity of thought to see what needs to be done next.
- Keep a tight rein on perspective
Perhaps you’ve noticed what a great storyteller your brain is. It leaps to amplify and exaggerate creating catastrophe and mayhem all from the comfort of your own mind. If your mind is running away from you creating new drama and narrative, it’s time to step back and challenge that thought.
Is this real or a figment of my imagination?
Is this a given or a worst-case scenario I’ve manufactured?
On what basis is my forecast accurate and what can I do to readjust the expected outcome?
Frustration, disappointment, grief, all colour our world. Focusing on what is possible and probable can diminish the pain and angst that can otherwise hold us back.
- Manage your manageable
This is about using your habits and routine to allow you to get stuff done. That feel-good moment when you can tick an item off your to-do list is that lovely surge of dopamine – the reward hormone that motivates us to repeat that behaviour.
To get more dopamine hits in your day look at what you can schedule into your diary that will guarantee a boost to your confidence and elevate your coping skills.
- Take time out to be you
If you’re always playing to the expectations of others, now is the time for more YOU time.
This is the time to stop focusing on tasks and refocus on what gives you joy.
It’s the time you need to take a short break, to rest and reset – a coffee break, walk or nap.
It’s the time to reach out and connect with your partner, kids and friends.
It’s the time to let your hair down, to play and get creative.
When it comes to taming anxiety go easy on yourself – take one small step at a time. Some days will be easier than others, that’s expected, but it’s the accumulated practice that will enhance your mastery of this slippery customer and remember this isn’t about banishment, it’s about keeping your anxiety at a level that will keep you feeling good and in control.
If dealing with the pandemic has led to feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, loneliness or mental distress please don’t be afraid to put up your hand for help. Details on where to get additional help are detailed below.
If you’re looking for more information on how to maintain your mental wellbeing, I run an 8-week stress mastery program – details here.
Or you can download my tips sheet on Stress and Anxiety Management.
Or sign up to my mailing list to stay up to date with the latest findings from the neuroscience and positive psychology in relation to better brain health, mental wellbeing and human connection.
If you or someone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890