Mental Health Awareness Week
At SIG for Mental Health Awareness Week we’re focusing on anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems we can face, with a quarter of adults feeling so anxious that it has stopped them from doing the things they want to do some or all of the time.
Here we’ve collated some suggestions for coping with anxiety from trusted sources such as the Mental Health Foundation and the NHS. More resources can be found throughout their websites, and if you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety, seek support. Contact your local GP or a helpline service.
The Mental Health Foundation’s suggestions for coping with feelings of anxiety:
1. Focus on your breathing
When you’re having anxious thoughts try focusing on your breathing, concentrating on the feeling of your body as you breathe in and out. It can help you control the thought.
4-7-8 breathing technique
Close your mouth and quietly breath in through your nose, counting to four in your head. Hold your breath and count to seven. Breathe out through your mouth, making a whoosh sound while counting to eight. Repeat three more times for a total of four breath cycles.
Some people find relaxation exercises work too, while others find mindfulness useful.
2. Get moving
Exercise is a good way of dealing with anxiety.
Remember, activity doesn’t have to be vigorous; try some gentle stretches, yoga, or seated exercises. Or just go for a walk. Going for a run, swimming, or taking part in a fitness class can give you something else to think about. It needs a bit of concentration, so takes your mind of the anxious thoughts. Any amount of exercise will help.
Read more about how exercise can help improve our mental health.
3. Keep a diary
It’s important that we don’t try to ignore our worries. Taking the time to keep a record of what’s happening in your life and how it’s affecting you can help you understand what is triggering your feelings of anxiety. Knowing this can help you better prepare for and manage situations that may cause anxiety.
Sometimes it helps to give yourself a certain time of day to be your ‘worry time’. It could be half an hour first thing in the morning for to sit with your worries and write them down in your diary. When that’s out of the way, you can move on with the rest of your day. This can help you take control and stop anxiety getting in the way of what you want to do.
4. Challenge your thoughts
Anxiety can lead us to think about things over and over again in our brain. This is called ‘rumination’ and it’s not helpful. When you catch yourself ruminating try to write down the thought and to challenge it. Is what you’re worrying about likely to happen? Are you being realistic? Have you had similar thoughts which have not turned into reality? This can make it easier to challenge the thoughts and stop them from overwhelming you.
5. Get support for money worries
A common cause of anxiety is money. If you’re worried about not being able to pay bills, are struggling to repay debt, or aren’t sure if you
can cover your family’s living costs, seek help. Make sure you are claiming all the government supports that you’re entitled to. You can also speak to an organisation such as Citizens Advice or StepChange.
6. Spend time in nature
We know that spending time in nature has a positive impact on our mental health. It can help us feel calmer and less stressed. This can be as simple as tending some flowers in a window box or going for a walk in the woods. Any amount of time doing this is good for us, but to really get the benefit, try to spend a significant period of time – maybe an hour or longer – when you can really connect with nature and immerse yourself. Find out more about the benefits of nature.
7. Connect with people and talk about how you feel
Anxiety can feel very lonely. Connecting with other people can help a lot. Spend time with friends or meet other people through activities such as volunteering, sport or social clubs, or peer support groups. If you’re able to talk to people about how you feel, it can help to reduce your anxiety. Sometimes saying what’s worrying you out loud can take away its power over you.
8. Try to get some quality sleep or rest
Resting and having a good night’s sleep is hard when your head is full of worries but there are some things that can help.
If anxious thoughts keep you awake, write them down in your diary. If sleep is still not coming, get up and have a drink (nothing with caffeine!) and wait until you’re feeling more tired before going back to bed.
Keeping a note in your diary of your sleep patterns, what time you went to bed, what you ate, how often you woke up etc can help you work out a routine that will help you get better quality sleep.
9. Try to eat a healthy diet
For many of us, feeling anxious might cause us to reach for sugary snacks, junk food or alcohol.
It’s important that we don’t turn to unhealthy foods or drinks as a way to cope as they will do more damage in the longer term. Similarly, we should avoid smoking or taking recreational drugs.
Eating healthy food regularly helps us to regulate our blood sugar and gives us the energy we need to live well. Remember caffeine in coffee, tea and fizzy drinks can affect your mood and cause sleep problems so it’s best to have these in moderation and not too close to bedtime. Find out more about how your diet is linked to good mental health.
The NHS has a series of articles with Mindfulness tips:
How to be more mindful
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.
Notice the everyday
As we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk.
Keep it regular
It can be helpful to pick a regular time, such as a morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime, during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.
Try something new
Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.
Watch your thoughts
Some people find it very difficult to practise mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in.
It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events that come and go. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.
Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking.
Name thoughts and feelings
To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam” or: “This is anxiety”.
Free yourself from the past and future
You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been trapped in reliving past problems or pre-living future worries.