When I’m feeling Anxious....
We all feel worried and even anxious from time to time, but when it builds up and builds up it can feel very draining. If you find that things you used to do without any difficulty now worry you to the point where you feel you just can’t even try to do it, then try to talk about it with someone. The old adage “ a problem shared is a problem halved” can be true, and when you talk to someone sometimes just saying it out loud can make something less scary.
When we are anxious our heart may start to pound, and we may start to feel a little sick. We may feel wobbly, or even giggly with nerves. Sometimes we may even become angrier the more anxious we feel, and less able to manage our emotions.
Here are some tips for dealing with times when you feel anxious:
1. Focus on the here and now.
When we worry, we can start to go over and over what we think has happened in the past. When we do this our minds can make small changes to history and we can remember things more negatively that they actually were. This give us more to worry about and actually change our memories over time, which can damage our self-esteem.
Or maybe we worry what we think might happen in the future. When we worry about what might happen our minds tend to exaggerate things and we might create situations that are very likely not going to happen giving us things to worry about that aren’t real.
By focusing on the here and now we can clear our minds from the chaos of imagined things that we are worrying about. To help you focus, try asking yourself these questions:
What are 5 things I can hear?
What are 4 things I can see
What are 3 things I can touch?
What are 2 things I can Smell?
What is 1 thing I can taste?
Don’t think too hard but settle on the first thing/things that come into your head. It is about what you can hear, see, touch, smell and taste in the moment, instantly, where ever you are and whatever you are doing.
By running through this little exercise, you can distract your mind and begin to think about things that are around you. This can help you to reconnect with real things, calm your mind and reduce the stress you are experiencing, possibly lowering your heart rate and reducing that racing feeling you can get when you are anxious.
2. Take some time out
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘self-care’, and you might think it is just the latest trendy phrase. But when we are anxious and not thinking clearly, we can sometimes take on too much, because we forget what we’ve already said “yes” to or maybe we don’t feel able to say “no”.
Or our minds can feel muddled and confused, and even everyday tasks like managing your bills or writing a shopping list and going shopping can feel too big and difficult to manage. In these situations taking some time out for yourself, practising Self-care, can work wonders.
Make a hot drink and get a biscuit, or visit a coffee shop, and sit quietly for 30 minutes just watching the world go by. This can give you a break in your day or from what you are doing that is causing you to feel anxious and let your mind focus on what is going on around you.
Set yourself a time limit for what you are doing, so that you can limit how long you are focusing on something that you are feeling anxious about. Then when the time is up you stop that and make yourself do something that is quite different. By changing what you are doing it can help break the cycle of worry by taking your mind in a different direction because it is working on something else.
Run yourself a bath and enjoy a soak with maybe with a lovely smelling bath bomb or bubbles to help you relax. Other things to help you unwind might be listening to music, reading a book, doing a puzzle or colouring. Pick things that don’t need too much energy, the goal is to unwind and relax.
Keep a little notebook next to your bed/favourite chair so that when you feel yourself getting worried about something you can write it down in your book. Writing things down can help you to keep them simple and not make your worries bigger than they need to be.
You might also jot down an idea to solve it or make things better. But the final action of closing the book and putting it back down can also help you feel like you have recognised your worry but now put it away to think about at another time.
3. Monitor and challenge your thoughts
When you find yourself having worrying thoughts that are making you anxious, try not to avoid what you are feeling but be aware of if it instead:
Say to yourself that you are having a worrying thought/a thought that is making you feel anxious/a thought that is making you feel angry; once you have named the feeling you will be able to manage it more easily.
Imagine yourself taking a couple of steps back from the place you are in now; this helps you separate yourself a little from the thought, giving you space to breath and look at it differently.
Identify what the though it saying to you; this helps you think about your ‘self-talk’ differently and consider the message you are hearing rather than react to the words.
Say why you think it is making you feel anxious, and what you are worrying about; this helps you to look at yourself and consider the impact your thoughts are having on you in a way that you can begin to challenge them because they’re not helpful.
Ask yourself whether your thought is valid; this helps you to look change your self-talk and draw different conclusions from a situation, giving you different way to think about it.
Ask yourself what you can do about the situation; using your new thinking you can consider different ways to react to a situation that has caused you to have worrying thoughts.
Ask yourself how you can think differently in the future; this means you can challenge your self-talk and find new ways to think about things so that situations and thoughts are less worrying and you feel more in control.
4. Move more, eat well and sleeeeep
I know, everyone says that exercise is good for us, but it is true. Aside from the physical, there are real psychological benefits that can help distract us from our worrying thoughts. If money is tight you might choose free things like walking, running, or cycling. These things can be done on your own, or with a family member, friend or support worker. You might want to go swimming at your local pool, either by yourself or joining a group session. Perhaps you would prefer to join an activity group or go to a gym and exercise in the company of others. There are lots of different things you can consider, finding the things you really want to do and enjoy.
Another obvious thing is what we eat. Eating well is also essential for our bodies to work well and for us to be strong enough to make good choices. If money is tight you can get someone to help you to meal plan and budget for your food. You can also ask someone to shop with you, if you struggle and find it difficult to make choices when there are so many options on the shelf or lots of fancy displays and advertised bargains.
Finally, and again you will know this, we all need enough sleep though of course how much is enough will be different for each of us. People with a brain injury can experience severe fatigue and feel tired most of the day, but find their sleep is un-refreshing and doesn’t restore them. It is important to listen to your body and give yourself the right opportunities to get good sleep. That may include:
Committing to sleep in your bed, so that you have a dedicated place different to where you watch TV, eat your meals etc, where you can switch off and sleep. Try not to doze on the sofa as our bodies get used to routines and it is easy to get into bad habits that can interfere with your ability to sleep well in your bed.
Setting a regular pattern for sleeping like going to be at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. This is also important, getting your body into good habits and making it easier to manage your energy levels during the day.
Setting a sleep routine; perhaps switching off the TV half an hour before you go to bed, making a hot drink and having a biscuit or snack, or taking a warm shower or bath. These routines help tell our bodies we are getting ready to go to sleep.
Making your bedroom cosy and the right temperature for you to be comfortable. Lots of us have gadgets, TV’s and we charge our mobile phones overnight in our room and
they all have little stand-by lights. You may have a digital which always casts some light into your room. The light these cast into a darkened room can interfere with the body’s ability to settle into a good sleep cycle. See what you can do without, maybe even removing them all together. If that is too drastic, are you able to place them so you can’t see the light, like turning your mobile phone over so the light is against the table.
5. Face your fears
We all have fears, some are big and some are small. Sometimes we even conquer them without realising until one day we spot that we aren’t worrying about them anymore. One way of tackling the things that we are afraid of is to face them, which we can do with someone by our side or on our own depending on what we need.
Facing your fears doesn’t have to be scary. When it’s planned, and you can do it with support, you can break your fears down into smaller pieces of information that can make it possible for you to find ways to deal with them and no longer be afraid.
Perhaps not all fears will be totally conquered, but if you can reduce the number that worry you that will be a great start. This way you may have more reserves to deal with those that remain.
Anxiety can leave us feeling isolated and vulnerable, and it can stop us from doing things we love and things that are good for us. There is no quick fix, but there are always things we can do that will help, and there will be other people that can help.