According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 13 people around the world suffer from anxiety. The problem is more prevalent in middle age and amongst women. However, despite how common the issue is, many people do not seek help for their symptoms and, even if they do, it can take time to find an appropriate treatment as anxiety levels and type vary from person to person. In this blog, I will focus on coping techniques for mild anxiety; but, if you need further help, always speak to your doctor.
Anxiety is something we all have to deal with. In a stressful situation, such as an encounter with a wild animal, for example, our natural reaction would be to run. In this instance, an anxious reaction is quite normal – our lives are under threat, after all!
An anxiety disorder, however, is more problematic, as we react with anxiety to situations that don't actually cause us any real threat. This can result in various symptoms, such as restlessness, difficulty sleeping and poor concentration. Worry also becomes very difficult to control and may begin to dominate our thoughts.
Research by Cambridge University showed that women in deprived areas were 60% more likely to experience anxiety than those living in areas that were not deprived.2 However, if women had access to coping mechanisms, they were less likely to experience anxiety, regardless of where they lived.
So, what coping techniques might be helpful for mild anxiety?
Use your breath
Find a support network
1. Take a breath
When you feel groggy or overwhelmed during the course of the day, try setting aside a few minutes to do some structured breathing. This will help you to re-set and can even be quite energising.
If you are in a public area you could practice deep breathing in a restroom. If you are working, just take yourself away from the work area and settle in a calm spot in the office or house. Sitting comfortably, set a timer for two minutes and begin the breathing exercises outlined below.
Begin seated with your feet on the ground and your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed.
Breathe in slowly through your nose whilst keeping your mouth closed. Inhale for a count of two.
Next, purse the lips (just like you are blowing out a candle) and exhale slowly for a count of four.
Repeat the steps above until your timer goes off.
Deep breathing exercises like this help to slow down the rate of breathing and can be calming during a period of anxiety. However, it is best not to practice deep breathing if you are already experiencing shortness of breath.
My self-care tip: Reduce tension with structured breathing
Get to grips with structured breathing through this short video!
2. Create a support network
During the course of 2020, levels of anxiety have soared. A survey by Nottingham University which involved over 3,000 participants found that, in the early stages of 'lockdown', 57% of participants reported experiencing feelings of anxiety.3
This was most likely down to health concerns; however, as restrictions increased and we were not able to see family and friends freely, many also experienced increased isolation and loneliness. These were also likely to be big factors in rising anxiety as we need social connections to sustain good mental health.
So, if you are dealing with slight anxiety, my advice would be to find yourself a support network. This could be a therapist or support group. A GP will be able to initiate this for you – many will hold a phone consultation if it isn't possible to make an appointment in person.
Friends, family and colleagues can also offer a voice of support and positivity.
Another way of finding a support network is to try something new, such as joining an outdoor club. There are countless options here, including golf, running, sailing, bowling and walking. Most places will allow a trial session so you can decide if it's for you before making any big commitments.
Volunteering also creates opportunities to meet new people and provides a focus. Does your local town have an allotment? If so, it may be possible to help out there. Big charities like the United Nations Volunteers also have a whole host of 'virtual volunteer roles', from writing and editing to administration.
Volunteering can also come in less formal ways, though. Perhaps you can support a local homeless or animal shelter by donating supplies, for example, or support a neighbour in need.
3. Find some purpose
Having purpose in your days can create a little less scope for uncertainty. Also, once again, it provides focus.
Purpose can come in many forms and doesn't have to be something large and life-defining, such as a career. In fact, setting your goals too high may actually be a negative thing as there is room for disappointment if these aren't achieved. So, here are my thoughts on finding a purpose that is easier to accomplish:
Your purpose could be to create more organisation in your life. This could involve lots of notebooks, diaries and post-it notes to plan, write thoughts on, or set goals with.
It could be a new activity – something that takes your mind away from the here and now and focuses your attention elsewhere.
Purpose can also be about creating a routine. Perhaps you set aside time for exercise twice a week, or work in time for a spot of daily meditation.
Or, perhaps your own sense of purpose comes in something really small – a goal to spend more time outdoors, for example, or to rearrange the set-up of your bookcase!
Getting control over a very small thing (e.g. tidying out a drawer; making sure the paperwork (or digital files) for your bills is all in order; restoring order to your collection of scarves, hats and gloves before winter) can make you feel in control more generally so this is a very good place to start.
If your anxiety prevents you from doing something in particular, like going to a party, it is important to forgive yourself for that and move on. Holding on to the negative feelings and thoughts associated with that event will only go on to have a more detrimental effect on your mental wellbeing.
Remaining positive also involves supporting yourself and being kind to yourself. A good tip I recently heard is to treat yourself as you would a best friend.
So, if you have negative thoughts, take a moment to evaluate whether you would say that thought to someone you love. If not, why are you saying it to yourself? Next time, replace negativity with positivity. You can do this!
Do you often put things off because you don't feel ready enough? Be it a job, relationship, or social activity. Maybe you find it hard to make decisions and waste time deciding what to do, so in the end, nothing gets done.
To overcome this indecision and uncertainty in life, experts suggest aiming to 'do things badly'. This is because aiming for perfection can put us off doing anything at all, as standards that are set too high can be intimidating.
However, if you have the mindset to do things badly, it means you can improve as you go along. Plus, more often than not, we will look back thinking, well, it was not actually that bad.
As I mentioned at the start of this blog, people who feel as though they have control over their lives tend to have better mental health. So, if you can take control in this way, it may just have a positive effect on your anxiety.
When we feel stressed or anxious our body responds as though we are under attack, releasing a surge of adrenaline which can cause a number of baffling bodily behaviours including palpitations, shortness of breath and even a dry mouth!