A recent YouGov survey showed that one in five people feel anxious all or some of the time. Mixed depression and anxiety is in fact the most prevalent mental health problem in the UK as a whole. A certain amount of anxiety can be good for you – it keeps you alert and can help you to perform well when life situations instil you with fear. However, if anxiety becomes too intense or goes on for too long it can make you feel bad and start to interfere with your life. It is in fact a major trigger for depression and can start to affect your physical health as well.
Anxiety can manifest itself in all sorts of ways. It can include feeling worried all the time, having difficulty sleeping or being unable to concentrate. Physical symptoms include a dry mouth, faintness, sweating and breathing too fast. The good news is there are many simple steps that you can start taking right now to help you calm down and let go of the angst that is plaguing you.
So, how can we chase that chilled-out feeling when anxiety is getting the better of us? Psychologist Tony Crabbe and neurophysiologist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan gave us some advice on how to cope.
1. What not to do
Stop playing hopscotch. Five minutes of this, ten minutes of that – we are doing a hundred jobs a day and, inevitably, not all of them properly. As tech allows us to fragment our attention and take multitasking to a new dimension, we can actually make less progress and end up having to return to undone tasks. Instead, stop thinking better time management and consider better attention management. Keep your focus simple. Choose one thing and do it excellently, closing your mind to every other distraction. Only then move on.
2. Step away from tech
Our access to stimulation, information and communication is limitless, and we can’t resist going back for more. It’s not just our kids who need limits! Escape screen overload and take back time by making a conscious decision about how long to browse, then put away your laptop, switch off your smartphone and stop the mindless more game.
3. Punctuate your day
If every five-minute breather is spent with a to-do list flashing before your eyes, develop a wind-down ritual you can use even when there’s only a mini break in your day. Do some simple breathing exercises, open the window and inhale some fresh air or kick off your shoes (okay, it may be under the desk!) and have some herbal tea. Whatever works for you, make it a habit and it will start to signal to your brain that it’s time to switch off, allowing you to take advantage of even the smallest pause in your day.
4. What to drop
When we choose to do one thing, we are also unchoosing something else. Often we’re not really aware of it, but consciously registering what you’re compromising on will make that loss palpable. We all make lists of things we have to do… now make a list of things NOT to do. You don’t have to answer all your emails right now or give attention to time stealers – they are the ones who take, don’t give and never stop talking.
5. Find your fabulous fifteen
It’s not your 500 Facebook friends who make you happy, but the 15 people you cherish most. Research shows it is these magic 15 people who bring you joy, wellbeing and satisfaction in life. You probably know who they are immediately but, if not, write down their names. Now make space to spend more time with them.
6. Bookend your day
Don’t hit the ground running. If you start off in a mad rush, the rest of your day will follow suit. It may mean a slightly earlier wake-up time, but allowing yourself the luxury of a slow start, with a cup of herbal tea in bed on a weekday perhaps, will make you feel more in control and put you in a better frame of mind. At the end of your day, create a similar wind-down space.
7. Change gear
A change really is as good as a rest, so if you can’t switch off mentally, trust your body to do it for you. Engage in something purely physical, such as ballroom dancing or rock climbing, and the concentration it requires will drown out your internal taskmaster, allowing your brain to recharge.