During a year where we have been subject to a highly sensitised environment, experiencing an unprecedented mix of fear and uncertainty, facing anxiety has been an obstacle that most of us have had to tackle. Our over-engagement with news channels and social media outlets leads us to having multiple tabs open in our mind, leaving us overstimulated and stopping us from paying attention to what actually matters to us. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said that usually in any given year, 1 in 12 of us show symptoms of or suffer from an anxiety disorder, whereas this past year it was 1 in 3 of us. A mind-blowing statistic, so what can we do to help ourselves to combat these feelings?
I had the pleasure of attending the webinar ‘Transforming Anxiety’, hosted by Dr Elisha Goldstein, a psychologist, mindfulness coach, and author of ‘Uncovering Happiness’. This webinar was part of the Action for Happiness movement and had over 3,000 attendees from all across the globe! It was such an interesting and eye-opening experience, and I wanted to share some of the things I learned.
Before we go any further, let’s try a quick mindfulness exercise together: this is something you can do anywhere, anytime, helping us to step out of auto-pilot and inviting ourselves to be present.
- Step 1: Relax into a comfortable position – this can be sitting up, or laying down, eyes open or closed.
- Step 2: Allow yourself to straighten your spine, as this will make breathing much easier, and take some deep breaths in through your nose.
- Step 3: Become aware of how your body is feeling in the moment, noticing any areas in your body where you are holding tension – especially your face! Actively allow these muscles to soften and release.
- Step 4: You may find yourself distracted, with thoughts buzzing around – don’t discourage this, instead invite the thoughts in and acknowledge their presence, but just try to let them settle for now.
- Step 5: Continue this pattern of deep breathing and relaxed acceptance of thoughts for as long as you wish.
And that’s it! Such a simple example of how easy it is to take some time to be mindful each day. Remember that taking time to be mindful is an act of self-care, it really can be that simple!
Day to day anxieties are part of life as a human being, and it can sometimes seem hard to persevere with our everyday struggles, but also when considering the state of climate and conflict of the world. Sometimes we have underlying anxieties, and aspects of our lives that we don’t really consider to have an impact on us, are actually quite profound; our environment matters greatly, whether that’s our physical environment, or the people we surround ourselves with. We can work to try to replace some of the depleting environments with the integration of nourishing activities – this could be spending more time in nature, or less time scrolling through social media!
Moments of anxiety can be triggered by fear and we are pushed into survival mode, a fight or flight response, where we are made to pick the quickest and easiest response. Everyone experiences these moments differently, but for some it can be extremely debilitating, so how do we tackle this? Dr Goldstein explained the science behind moments like this: blood recedes from the frontal area of the brain, into the area where emotion is focused, leading to a heightened emotional response which can present itself in many forms (panic, upset, anger, etc.). Our brain can typically remember three things easily, so to bring focus and draw blood back to the frontal area of our brain, we can recite the ‘3 Rs’:
- Recognise – Understand what you are experiencing and how it feels (could be a clenching feeling in your chest, or butterflies in your stomach).
- Release – Similar to our quick mindful practice, allow your body to release the tension (sometimes you can physically feel a presence in your body, so try placing your hand in that area and it might help to turn down the volume of the anxiety).
- Refocus – Bring attention back to where it is needed.
Try to integrate the ‘3 Rs’ into your everyday life, then it will gradually become easier to apply this technique in anxiety fuelled moments, such as overthinking or even panic attacks. Trust and believe in yourself that your technique will help – practice over time will lead to increased confidence and will gradually allow you to conquer moments like this, helping you to ‘ride the wave’! If you are experiencing overload and can’t cope with any more thoughts, making it hard to remember the ‘3 Rs’, try writing these down on a little card that you can keep handy on you, maybe slipped into your wallet or purse, allowing you to refocus when you need it most.
Here is a fabulous short video about dealing with anxiety.
Emotions we experience and what we feel is linked to our physical bodies: stress is stored in our nervous system, and therefore can be released from our bodies – motor therapies (therapy involving movement) are becoming more popular, and this can be as simple as taking a deep breath, stretching, or even shaking the body off. Elisha Goldstein said that ‘your body is a barometer for how you’re feeling’, so try and find a movement that works for you as this isn’t a one size fits all!
One last thing I wanted to share is that experiencing anxiety does not make you a weak person, remember that!
Check out Dr Goldstein’s YouTube channel here for more tips and tricks.