In a world where we are constantly comparing our looks, our lifestyles, our jobs and our relationships with others, it can be easy to let worries get the better of us. The truth is, whether you’re sociable or solitary, extroverted or introverted, anxiety will affect us all at some point in our lives. The fact that a national pandemic has been thrown into the mix hasn’t exactly helped matters either.
Just the word ‘pandemic’ can trigger feelings of anxiety and a year into this sh**show, even a brief glimpse at the news is worthy of despair with photos of overcrowded hospitals, tales of people dying and the ‘new normal’ looking a lot bleaker than we hoped. We’re fearful for our own health, and for loved ones who might be more vulnerable. We’re worried about our livelihoods, with the virus causing huge economic instability and profits to plummet, and we just keep wondering how the hell this even happened.
We know that staying home is essential to protect ourselves, our loved ones, those around us and the NHS, but it’s no secret that yet another lockdown is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing, giving us a serious case of cabin fever.
“Whilst cabin fever is not a real diagnosis, many people at the moment are becoming tired, listless, and irritable from having to stay home for so many months – and this feeling is certainly real,” explains Lucinda Gordon Lennox, psychotherapist and trauma specialist at TRC Group.
That’s why finding simple ways to combat our anxiety are so important RN.
Health writer Claire Chamberlain has penned UnAnxious – a pocket-sized guide that she says will help people recognise and understand the way they feel and why they feel that way. It offers practical advice and tips for looking after your mental and physical well-being on a daily basis, to help readers challenge negative thinking and make positive lifestyle changes and a starting point to a more carefree, content and confident you. Sounds handy, right? As we navigate through yet another lockdown and desperately await a roadmap and ‘new normal’, here are Claire’s 7 simple things you can do daily to feel more ‘unanxious’.
1. Boost your fitness
Exercise is proven to boost not just your physical fitness, but your mental health, too. As well as reducing anxiety (by using up that fight-or-flight adrenaline in a positive way), exercise also increases feelings of wellbeing, and improves self-esteem and confidence (due to the endorphins that flood your body after a workout). What’s more, as you start to exercise regularly, you begin to realise you’re capable of more than you ever believed, and this sense of resilience can cross over to all areas of your life. Whatever fitness pursuit you love, be it running, cycling or HIIT, it’s time to get moving!
2. Limit your caffeine intake
It can be worth keeping a food diary for a few weeks, to see if there is a pattern to your anxiety. Sometimes the trigger can simply be physiological, such as the effects of the caffeine in your morning latte.
Numerous studies have found that high social media use results in poor mental health, with users experiencing greater instances of depression, anxiety, loneliness, ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), feelings of isolation, lower self-esteem and even suicidal thoughts. When used sensibly, for a short amount of time each day and viewed with the correct mindset, social media can be a way to connect with like-minded people, exposing you to positive, interesting and new ideas. Unfortunately though, it’s easy to get hooked, and once you begin to check it obsessively, you are more likely to get sucked into a cycle of social comparisons. If you use social media, it’s important to remember that it is not real life: it’s a highly edited (and often filtered) snapshot of the moments people want you to see. If social media is starting to make you feel unhappy in any way, consider limiting yourself to just half an hour a day for a few weeks, or have a few social media-free days each week, and see if you feel any differently.
4. Download a meditation app
Studies have shown that meditation can have powerful positive effects on both your mind and body, reducing stress and anxiety, lowering heart rate, improving circulation and boosting wellbeing. Essentially, meditation is simply focused attention without judgement – for example, attention on the breath; on the body; or on an external object, such as a candle flame. When you first start, it may feel awkward and mentally uncomfortable, but as with anything, the more you practice, the more natural it will become. For guidance, you could download a meditation app.
5. Try journalling
Journalling has become something of an art form in recent years, and there are so many different forms out there, from bullet journals to gratitude journals, so you’ll likely find something to suit your style. When it comes to journalling, there are no hard and fast rules, although most of us aren’t in the habit of writing down our innermost feelings regularly, so it might seem awkward at first. Go with it though – many people swear by journalling to help them gain clarity and perspective, and to help them notice (and subsequently manage) anxiety triggers.
6. Be proactive
If there’s something specific triggering your anxiety, try not to shy away from it. Accepting a problem, rather than burying your head in the sand, is important. Try breaking down large, overwhelming problems into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, if financial worries are contributing to your anxiety, start tackling them today – seek financial advice or start paying off a single bill. Remember, taking even just one small step is far more productive and positive than trying to pretend nothing is wrong.
7. Tune into your senses
Mindfulness is simply focused attention on the present moment, exactly as it is, without judgement. This type of conscious awareness – giving your attention fully to the present moment – means there is no room to ruminate on the past or worry about the future. To get started, try resting your full attention on your current surroundings for a few minutes, focusing on each of your senses in turn – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.