How to cope with Anxiety

Anxiety in society is at an all time high at the moment. Here are some coping strategies to get through the coming weeks and months.

With Everything that is happening in the world right now, there are a lot of people who are experiencing elevated levels of anxiety. Flick through social media or talk to people you know and in all likelihood you know someone whose response is ‘my anxiety is at an all time high right now’.

I think we can all probably relate to feeling a little more anxious than usual given the present situation. We are in unpresidented times with borders being closed for the first time ever and self-distancing and isolation being the order of the day. So, how do we calm down the anxious beast inside?

Get clear on what your truth is and stare it square in the face and meet it. Running from it does not achieve anything except make it think this is a game of chase and this beast is a relentless son of a bitch. Here’s how you get clear on what your truth is:

Acknowledge Anxiety

Anxiety is very real and is not something to be dismissed. Acknowledging your anxiety is the first step in helping you cope with it. Dismissing it just compounds the anxiety further or makes you feel like there is something wrong with it.

Ways you can acknowledge your anxiety

Give it a name. In coaching we can the destructive habits and feelings saboteurs. They are the pesky things that always come up at the worst time and they feel all-consuming. As a way to create a new relationship with them we give them names. Grab a pen and paper, or your phone and write down a name for your saboteur. You may have a few that you want to address independently. The name(s) can be real or made up. For example, my first saboteur was named after an old boss I used to feel undermined me, much like my saboteur would try to do.

Now you’re going to create a relationship with it. You’re going to get to know it, how it feels, what it thinks. You don’t have to own any of what it is saying but you do need to hear it. Now you’re going to share with it how you feel when it gets right up in your face and stops you doing what you want.

A visual I like to use is that the saboteur is like a child poking your leg. In the beginning you can ignore it, but give it long enough and you end up exploding and getting angry. Rather than ignore it you need to start addressing the child early on and hear what they have to say. You’re the adult in the relationship so you have a choice about whether you choose to accept it or not. For purposes of an example let’s call my saboteur Fred. Here’s how the conversation could go:

Fred starts poking me just as I am about to hit publish on an article.

  • Me: ‘Hey Fred, what’s up?’
  • Fred: ‘You know what you’re writing is garbage and nobody gives a shit about any of it?’
  • Me: ‘Damn Fred, that’s harsh. I know it doesn’t resonate with everyone but that’s ok, it’s not meant to resonate with everyone.’
  • Fred: ‘Nope, that’s rubbish, you just suck.’

Right now I have 2 choices, accept what Fred is telling me, that I am garbage and nobody gives a shit about anything I write, or to thank Fred for sharing his thoughts and say I choose to do something different. Here’s how I address him:

  • Me: ‘Fred, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and your honesty but right now I choose to do something different and keep writing. I know my work doesn’t touch everyone but those it does, it touches deeply.’
  • Fred as he walks away: ‘You know it’s going to fail, I’ll be here waiting when it does.’
  • Me: ‘And I’ll still be here if it succeeds too.’

This conversation can happen in any situation. Take the current coronavirus situation and fear that many people are feeling. I’ll use Fred again:

  • Me: ‘Hey Fred, not seen you for a while, what’s up?’
  • Fred: ‘You know this coronavirus, it’s literally going to take over the world and we’re all going to die. You’re definitely going to get it because you are weak.’
  • Me: ‘Wow, Fred, that’s brutal. You know what yeah I’m scared of coronavirus. My family is 1000’s of miles away and flights are getting more and more restrictive. If anything happens I might not be able to get home to see them. It makes me feel sad and it can be an emotional challenge. But, regardless of whether I go back to the UK or not, I have to look after myself first otherwise I am no use to anyone. I have covered my basic needs; food, medication, shelter, safety. I have also cut back massively on social interraction. My world has become work, home and seeing my girlfriend when I can.’
  • Fred: ‘You know the fact you’re leaving the house means you’re going to get sick and then you’ll die.’
  • Me: ‘I do know there are some risks when I leave the house but if I am sensible and keep direct interraction with people limited then I keep those chances at a minimum. I also work as a key worker with youth who can’t get home to their families so it is even more important for me to look after my health.’
  • Fred: ‘Why would you want to help anyone else at the moment, they don’t care about you, they’d walk over you to steal your last toilet roll and not think twice?.’
  • Me: ‘Well, thanks for your honesty Fred but I choose to do the work I am doing because they need my services right now and I have faith that if I should get sick I have done the upmost to put in place resources to get myself through it.’
  • Fred: ‘You’re kidding yourself, but ok, go for it.’

It is not a case of winning the argument, it is a case of giving your fears and saboteurs space to have their word. Denying they exist compounds everything they are telling you.

These conversations you can have in your head or out loud. I have been known to have them sat in front of a mirror talking out loud, it just depends on where I am and if anyone is around me.

Learn to ask for help

Right now is a great time to lean into any discomfort you have about asking for help. Over the coming weeks and months we are all going to need a little help. Create relationships with your neighbours so you can call on each other if you are running out of supplies or if someone is doing a grocery run so you don’t all have to go out and do it. The more you learn to ask for help and accept help from others the smoother this time is going to go.

Help might also come in the form of simply having someone you can talk to about what is going on. A safe person who you can openly vent about frustrations and fears you have. They don’t need to fix the problem but simply hear it and allow it to be ok for you to have these fears and frustrations. They are all normal and natural feelings to have.

Coping strategies

  1. Breathing – Breathing is such a powerful way to self-regulate. It is so fundamentally basic yet we all can forget from time to time how to do it properly. Deep belly breathing is effective and calming. Forgotten what belly breathing is, watch a baby breathe. We’re all born doing this but as we mature into teens and adults we forget how to do it and breathe from the top of our chests, only belly breathing when we laugh until it hurts, cry in pain or have severe coughs.
  2. Be around genuinely positive people – Being around genuinely positive people is really important. It helps to feed more positivity into your own life and provide perspectives that differ from your own. The crucial part about this is making sure those positive people are genuine. We all know a person who is ‘fake positive’, they say positive things or falsely act positive when they are anything but. These people suck the life out of you as you yearn for them to be honest for once.
  3. Journal – Writing in a journal is a skill many people seem to have forgotten about over the years. Journals are your safe haven to write about how you feel, what’s your truth and really get ideas out of your head. It can be very cathartic to write, especially when you feel overwhelmed. I am a big advocate of writing by hand vs online or on a computer. There is something very therapeutic about using a pen and paper journal. If you struggle with anxiety make sure to include at least 1 win for the day in your journal entry. Examples might be, ‘I went to the superstore when I was super anxious about being in a crowd’, ‘I spoke to a stranger to ask for directions’, ‘I got up and got dressed despite having no desire to leave the house’, ‘I made the bed this morning when I got up’.
  4. Bring back silence and Meditation – People these days are so afraid of silence. They fear being overwhelmed with emotions, boredom, wasting time. Silence is a gift. Silence is when you get to stop and hear your thoughts. Meditation is one way to make use of silence. This allows time to filter through them and let them go if they do not serve you. This can be a great time to journal. Silence also creates a space for boredom and boredom is great for coming up with new and creative ideas. Many businesses started from people being bored and starting to think about a solution to a problem. You do not need to sit for hours and hours in silence (unless you want to), take 5-10 minutes a day to intentionally be alone and be silent. There are also some great apps out there for guided meditations; Calm and Headspace are 2 off the top of my head.

Invitation

If you are struggling with any of the above or want someone to help you walk through it please get in touch. I am available in a number of different ways from E-Coaching through to Video Coaching.

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