Author: Renee Masters
My heart rate is slightly elevated, my breath shallow and I feel an underlying buzz all over my body. I know from experience this is the start of anxiety. I immediately start to rack my brain as to what it is exactly that is making me anxious, but the constant dialogue in my head just makes the feeling of impending doom worse. I am lucky enough to have been taught how to rationalise my thoughts and calm my anxiety before it turns into full-blown panic mode.
In the uncertain times of COVID-19, there has been a large increase in those reporting symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms can include some of what I described above but also feeling nervous, restless or tense, feeling tired and trouble with concentration. If you recognise any of the feelings in yourself, I urge you to go see your GP for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Below are some steps I use to calm my anxiety and stop it from getting worse. This may not work for everyone, but worth a try.
Calm my breath
When I am feeling anxious my breath is fast and shallow and therefore not providing enough oxygen to my body. A way I calm my breath is to breathe in slowly through my nose for 5 seconds and breath out slowly through my mouth for 5 seconds.
Rationalise my thoughts
Anxiety is a common response to when we feel under pressure. This usually comes about when I have been burning the candle at both ends and recognising this can put things into perspective.
Put my health first
As mentioned in the previous point, my anxiety is often a result of being under a lot of pressure and I have hit my stress threshold. This may be because I have been sick, not getting enough sleep, eating junk food, and drinking too much (the anxiety hangover is ever-present after a big night out), etc. So, for the next few weeks, months, however long it takes, I make sleep, exercise, and nutrition a priority. Here are a few tips for each of these categories:
- Sleep – I listen to sleep meditation, roll lavender on my wrists, drink calming teas in the evening and ensure I go to bed at a reasonable hour
- Exercise – I go for a gentle stroll daily or do some yoga. Gentle exercise is the key in the first two weeks as I do not want to deplete my energy further.
- Nutrition – For me my appetite is the first thing to go when I am anxious, so ensuring I get adequate nutrition is a priority. This often means I need to eat simple foods that I can tolerate like toast, bananas, etc. and I will incorporate protein shakes to ensure my energy levels are maintained. I also cut out any caffeine and alcohol as these can make anxiety symptoms worse. Once I have my appetite back, I opt for nutrient-dense foods, like nuts, turkey, eggs, oats, omega-rich foods like chia and salmon, and vitamin c rich foods like berries.
Another great way to gain some clarity in an anxious mind is to journal. I am not the ‘Dear Diary’ type of person so my psychologist gave me a great exercise to do when those anxious thoughts wouldn’t go away. Write down the following headings then empty your mind:
- Thoughts – What are my anxious thoughts?
- Memories – What memories are contributing to my anxious thoughts? Often we draw on memories of previous situations to predict the outcome. This usually leads to negative memories and exacerbates our anxiety.
- Physical Symptoms – What physical symptoms am I feeling?
- Emotions – What emotions am I feeling?
- Understanding – What is my rational mind telling me? This is a tough one!! But behind all that noise our rational mind is trying to be heard. Take the time to listen for it.
- Actions – (Optional) What can I do NOW to help? BREATHE
Get a massage, have a warm bath, listen to music, watch a movie, read a book, whatever you need to do to relax. A calm body enables a calm mind.
It has taken me years to learn what works for me when managing my anxiety and I would not have been able to do this without the help of a psychologist. I was on medication for several years, which is worth much more than the negative stigma surrounding it. It gave me my life back and enabled me to learn the skills needed to cope when without it.
Anxiety does seem like a useless pain in the backside a lot of the time, but it does serve a purpose. It is there as a warning system to let us know that something needs our attention, whether it be a dangerous situation or some area in your life that is hindering you. It is when anxiety is preventing you from living a normal life that it becomes a problem, and you need to seek professional help and perhaps try some of the tips above.