The anxiety merry-go-round. I want to get off!

Helen Player

When experiencing anxiety, the chest feels tight, shortening breath. Neck muscles tense, strain and lock, the throat feels closed and swallowing becomes a noticeable action. Some people also experience dizziness, fatigue, a burning sensation of the skin. Less energy results in less activity which in some, results in poorer circulation, shivering, hands turn a blotchy blue, white and orange. And all these physical reactions simply serve to increase the anxiety.

There are definitely more enjoyable merry-go-round’s than this one.

The emotional strain caused by the pandemics’ daily death tolls, constant reminders to stay safe and discomfort of isolation can result in symptoms not so dissimilar from those of the virus itself.

For people experiencing anxiety, the statement, ‘you are not alone’ returns the natural counter-statement, ‘they don’t understand’. And nobody wants to be told to, ‘think positively’ when turmoil sits deep in their gut.

 

So, what could I possibly suggest that could actually help you?

I am no expert. I am not a doctor or nurse. Nor am I a psychologist, councillor or therapist. I do have some very real experience of anxiety however, dating far back beyond the current situation we find ourselves in.

Small actions can make a big difference.

 

  1. Set yourself small and simple wins.

Have your brain chemistry work to your advantage. Every ‘win’ you allow yourself results in a little boost of dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical. Not only does a release of dopamine help you in the immediate present, but it also increases motivation. Try to give yourself 5 small wins each day, increasing by 1 each week and soon enough you’ll have built momentum so that your next, ‘win’ become even easier to achieve, thus rewarding yourself with good feelings to curb the anxiety.

Small wins could be as simple as, making breakfast, doing the washing up, completing 10 more star jumps than usual (if you don’t usually do any, why not try 10?) or making your bed. Entrepreneur and Author, Tim Ferris, best known for pushing his own limits, lives with bipolar and after a particularly tough time, he realised that making his bed every morning was something that he had control of. This small sense of control first thing in the morning can escalate and extend into the rest of your day.

Remember to congratulate yourself on every small win. This is what gives you that dopamine boost. A simple, internal pat on the back, a few times per day may sound daft but your brain will thank you.

 

  1. Learn from your better days.

We all have ‘good days’ and ‘not so good days’. Take a moment to ask yourself, “do I do anything differently on my good days? And if so, what?”. You are your best teacher. Be honest with yourself. Listen to yourself. If you can, find one small thing that you do differently on your good days and make a conscious effort to incorporate that into every day, remembering to congratulate yourself each time that you do.

 

  1. Motion equals emotion.

A very true statement I learned from the famous motivational speaker, Tony Robbins. Your physical movement directly relates to how you are feeling. Notice, when you feel down, your shoulders slouch. When you are anxious, you tense up. When you are feeling confident your body responds by being relaxed, you stand taller, your gestures are bigger and more open.

So, whenever you are feeling anything other than your best, think about your current posture, push those shoulders back, sit up or stand up straight, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Go for a walk into the next room or into the garden if you have one. Turn the music up and spend 5 minutes dancing, or swaying even if you don’t want to dance. The movement will essentially fool your mind into believing that things are OK. And they are OK. Really.

 

  1. Talk it out or write it down

If you have someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling, please do. But I know that many people experiencing depression, loneliness and/or anxiety do not always feel confident in turning to someone and right now, to do so may feel even more difficult than ever. If you don’t feel like talking to someone, write it down. Write it all down and then screw up the paper and throw it away. Or leave a comment here, no judgement, just let it out.

 

  1. Time is a funny old thing.

Remember, this is just a moment in time. A shitty one, admittedly. But as with other moments in history, it will pass. How does your ideal future look? What small change could you make right now that is a step in the right direction? Making your bed perhaps or finding someone who currently works in the profession you would like for yourself and taking 10 minutes each day to learn something from them via their website or social media.

The above is not a cure (clearly) but by choosing to do just one of the things listed above every day this coming week, you will start to feel more in control. The more in control you feel each day, the less time anxiety has to creep up on you. Build momentum at your own pace by adding another small action each week and always remember to congratulate yourself. It may feel silly at first, but it works!

 

There is some great information out there, by people who are actually qualified. The BBC has some great advice and the mental health charity, MIND has a fantastic support network.

Of course, if you are in any way concerned that what you are experiencing could even slightly be related to Coronavirus, or if your anxiety symptoms change in any way, call 111. Stay safe.

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