I once heard an analogy about mental health, and it’s always stuck with me. Imagine yourself as a clock. I know, a bit weird. For a person with anxiety, the time is always 10 to the hour. Their brain is in the future, always worrying about what’s ahead. They spend time imagining scenarios that haven’t even happened yet. For a person with depression, the time is always 10 past the hour. Their brain is stuck in the past, ruminating over things that happened weeks, months, even years ago. What both these people need to do to help their mental health is to always live on the hour. Living in the moment will be their saviour; and is their main way how to manage anxiety.
At the moment, life’s throwing us a pretty tough bone. In the throes of a worldwide pandemic, we have to stay at home to protect ourselves and our families. Our lives have gone from being very busy, full, to suddenly seeming completely empty (they’re not, but I’ll get onto that later). Many people have lost their jobs – the main thing taking up their time and keeping them occupied. To a person with mental health issues – this leaves more time alone with your thoughts, and more time to get stuck on them. The future, right now, is uncertain. And anxiety preys on these feelings of uncertainty.
Personally, I’ve had to move home from my life in London. At first, it was a choice (temporary, I thought), to be with my family. Then, less so: as my job contract came to a close, and, with a lack of other work opportunities in my field, so did my housing contract. I came to terms with the fact that I won’t just be here for a few weeks, or even until the lockdown is over: but, possibly, for many months.
I could sit here and wallow in that fact, and let my anxiety about my future take over, or, I could choose to work on my anxiety. Despite what any mental health issues will tell you, happiness is a choice. We can’t control what’s going on in the world – the virus, or our government – but we can always control how we react to it. Anxiety may not be a cold – you can’t just get rid of it completely – but you can get better at managing it. So, gradually I’ve put together a plan on how to manage my anxiety – and I hope it will be helpful to at least one of you.
How To Manage Anxiety #1: Create a routine
Having a sense of routine in my life one of the most helpful things for my anxiety. I have a morning routine that I stick to, every morning, and I find that this gives me a sense of grounding for the day. I’ve just written a whole blog post about it, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But setting a routine for the morning is so important because it sets you up for the day. Experts show that your attitude is set in the first 8 minutes after you wake up – so make sure it’s a positive one.
How To Manage Anxiety #2: Write your to-do’s
A lot of my personal anxiety and low mood is motivated by feeling like I haven’t achieved anything that day. So, every morning, I write my to-do list for the day. I split it between ‘work’ things that I need to get done (from sending an email, to reading a book about careers, to scheduling in time to post and engage on Instagram), and enjoyable activities (taking a bath, calling a friend, watching the latest episode of Dynasty).
I use an amazing planner which has this split in it naturally – it’s from Amazon and I couldn’t recommend it enough. I write everything in this planner, no matter how small the to-do is. And just as a note – I very rarely get it all done. At the end of the day, I tick off what I’ve done, I put a line through the check-box if I haven’t (feels less intimidating than an x!) and circle it if I want it to be a priority for tomorrow. Then I always write my list of good things that have happened to me that day, just before I go to sleep.
How to Manage Anxiety #3: Get some fresh air
I try and have at least one walk a day, especially now while we’re staying at home – it’s my absolute saviour just getting out of the house. I’m so fortunate that I live in such a green area with beautiful woodland around me; which I try and appreciate by being mindful as I walk. Always remember to look up! Sometimes even sitting in my garden and just looking up at the sky is so soothing.
How to Manage Anxiety #4: Move your body
A huge way I manage my anxiety is through a workout – I love Zumba, so I search ‘Zumba playlist’ on Youtube and dance for about 45 mins to an hour. There’s so many home workouts to try as well – a favourite fitness blogger of mine is Ciara London. She does 12pm lives some days; but if you subscribe to her Squad for £15 you get a full hour-long live workouts every day. I tried a full body HIIT workout of hers and the burn absolutely killled me!
I also find running to be amazing for anxiety. For ages I felt so much pressure about running as I’m not the best runner. Now, I just take it at my own pace. I normally run for one song, walk for one song. So it takes me about 40 minutes to run around 5K, but you gotta start somewhere!
How to Manage Anxiety #5: Set realistic goals for yourself
I try to always stay focused on my goals. My planner has sections for my weekly and monthly goals; as well as a weekly and a monthly reflection. In the reflection you assess how well you’ve done in your goals, and how well you’re doing in each area of life (career, health, family, social life, personal development etc.). Personally, I don’t plan too far ahead (more on that, next). I’ve never been one of those people to have a strict five year plan. In terms of my goals – I normally don’t fixate on longer than the next three months. It’s good to have a loose idea post that, but you never know where life might take you. And I find it’s more important to stay present.
How To Manage Anxiety #6: Live in the present
This may seem to contradict my previous point, but what if I told you: you can set goals for the future, and live in the present? I set my goals, and break them down into smaller ones. Then I think: what can I do today to make it happen? I don’t worry too much about if it will work, or how much it will help me – I just do it. Because I always find that as soon as I start ruminating on the future, the less likely I am to take action.
I try to practice mindfulness in my daily life. When I go on my daily walk, I always stop and smell the flowers. When I eat my favourite meal, I sit and savour the food. When I feed the fish in our pond, I revel in the peace that that moment brings. And I try and be a monotasker – that means, I try and focus on one task at a time.
Another way I live in the present is through yoga and meditation, using the apps Calm and Yoga Studio. Normally I use these to start my day, as part of my morning routine. I usually do a Calming Anxiety meditation (10 mins), then a Beginners’ Relaxation yoga routine (15 mins), to start off my day in a calm mood. Sometimes I do yoga just before I go to bed, and normally when I’m in bed I listen to a Sleep Story or one of the Sleep Sounds on Calm, like the Sierra Nevada Stream.
Meditation and yoga both have a similar aim: to quiet your mind. When a thought passes into your mind, you’re taught to acknowledge it and then let it go, as if it was a cloud passing in the sky. In time, you can learn to control what thoughts you give attention to, and let go of any anxious thoughts that aren’t serving you.
How to Manage Anxiety #7: ACE technique
This is my go-to technique when I’m feeling very anxious and need to calm down in the moment – it was life-changing for me! It’s a technique taught as part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
- Acknowledge your anxiety. Say ‘I am feeling anxious now, and that’s okay!’
- Ground yourself in the here and now: either press your palms together as hard as you can, or press your feet into the ground as hard as you can. I normally repeat ‘I am here now’ a few times in my head, while breathing deeply.
- Then name 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can smell, 5 things you can feel.
- Repeat the process 3 times.
This only takes 5 minutes but it’s a lifesaver!
How to Manage Anxiety #8: Breathing/body exercises
I’ve learned a lot of these through my meditation practice – here’s some of my favourites:
- Breathe as deeply as you can, using your diaphragm. Let your stomach rise when you breathe in and push it down when you exhale.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 8 seconds.
- Focus on your breath – focus on one area of your body, such as your nostrils when you breathe and focus on the air passing in and out.
- Body scan – this is a popular meditation technique where you focus on each individual body part at a time, moving up through your body. Some people like to imagine a white light shining through their body as they move through each body part.
How to Manage Anxiety #9: Get creative
I’ve seen a lot of people getting their creative juices flowing during lockdown! Here’s a few ideas:
- Create a Vision Dream Board
- Start scrapbooking some of your favourite memories
- Start writing a Journal
- Tie-dye some of your old t-shirts
- Customise an old pair of jeans
- DIY work around the house: redecorating
- Gel nail manicure (pastel colours look super cute!)
- Create a new dance on TikTok
How to Manage Anxiety #10: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I also have professional help for my anxiety in the form of CBT, which I could not recommend more. I’ve had person-centred counselling in the past (where you basically just talk to someone). For me, it wasn’t very helpful – it just felt like I was talking to a friend. A year ago, I first started CBT – a type of therapy popular for treating anxiety and depression. Like anything, this therapy is all about YOU and how much work you put in – your counsellor is just there to guide you along the way.
Normally you select a focus for each session based on what is troubling you most, and you have exercises to do in-between each session, as well as reading. You will gradually identify patterns in your behaviour and thoughts, called ‘Unhelpful Thinking Errors’, and work on challenging them. You’ll use these to figure out your core beliefs, and try and develop more balanced, neutral beliefs using evidence you’ll collect.
I recommend trying CBT with a counsellor if you are new to it, but there are also a lot of resources available online.
To find a counsellor near you: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/
Free CBT resources are available here: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/freedownloads.htm
Hope you guys found these tips helpful – let me know what you think, below.
Loungewear set: Missguided
Slippers: George, similar
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