MindWell team member Gillian shares some of her experiences of living with anxiety and how she navigates daily life.
Anxiety is a common feeling
We all feel anxious sometimes – it’s part of life. It can often be caused by something specific, like a doctor’s appointment, a big meeting at work, needing to travel or worrying about finances. I know I can cope with anxiety like this because it’s short-term or I can take steps to deal with the situation.
I experience anxiety daily, often at a low level of feeling unsettled or uncertain. Sometimes I feel higher levels of anxiety and my physical symptoms can increase. A fluttery stomach becomes feeling sick and having a dry mouth. Worrying thoughts become predictions of the terrible things that will happen if I don’t sort the problems out. I can’t sleep, find it hard to concentrate, and withdraw from friends.
Sometimes it’s easier for me to manage daily anxiety, but sometimes it builds and builds until I feel panicky and I’m not coping well. Maybe you know what that’s like.
What can help reduce anxiety?
Naming your thoughts and feelings
I’ve had counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), so I have a few tools to help me manage worrying thoughts. Noticing and naming how I’m feeling can be a relief – the more specific, the better. Instead of “I don’t feel good”, it’s better to label the precise emotion. If I’m not sure what emotion I’m feeling, I can choose from a ‘feelings wheel‘ (or try this interactive version).
Anything that creates space between ‘me’ and my thoughts or feelings can help. So, it’s better to say “I am feeling anxious” or “I am having worrying thoughts” rather than identifying too closely by saying “I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m an anxious person”. The language we use to talk about ourselves shapes how we experience life, so creating space allows me to understand emotion as something that moves through me rather than being a fixed part of my identity.
I sometimes need to set boundaries with myself, such as allocating worry time. That can mean planning a time to look at the things that are worrying me and deciding if I can do something about them. I might also use the Circles of Control model (see blog from January 2023), to help me write out my worries and decide if I can control them, influence them or there’s nothing I can do to help.
But even if I can’t control world events, it might not stop me worrying about them and feeling anxious. At that point I would keep reminding myself of the things I can control and might be able to influence. I’ve used positive statements like “I am safe and all is well” to remind myself that, in the moment, I am OK. I’ve repeated it over and over sometimes, especially when my anxious mind keeps saying “but you need to worry about this” and “what about that?”.
It’s not always easy to stop my runaway mind once it gets started. That can be when it’s helpful to do something physical, like going for a walk, having a shower, stretching my body or massaging the tension of out my neck.
There are lots of ways we can move our body or use our senses to help us feel grounded, be in the moment and become mindful of the world around us. For me, that can mean the difference between feeling calm and soothed rather becoming increasingly anxious and maybe having a panic attack.
Use your senses to feel more grounded
Our MindWell theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year is get ‘Back to your senses’ and we’ve created a sensory comfort kit with lots of ideas for using our senses to feel calmer, comforted and manage anxiety. We included ways we use our senses to help ourselves feel better. Some things I like to try are watching the birds outside my window, listening to mindfulness or relaxation breathing exercises, snuggling up with a cuddly blanket, using lavender oil and drinking a mug of peppermint tea. What about you?
You can explore the sensory comfort kit, pick a sense experience to try and download our foldable sensory comfort kit to keep with you. Or you can find out more about anxiety and being worried in our exploring your mental health section.
I like haveing a ‘toolbox’ of different approaches to use when I’m feeling anxious, from practical tools like setting boundaries or labelling thoughts, to comforting self-care tools like listening to calming music or enjoying a scented candle. Having techniques that work for me makes it possible to manage anxiety and stop it becoming a problem. I think that’s something many of us might find helpful, especially in challenging and stressful times!
Join MindWell this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and get #BackToYourSenses to feel better in anxious times.