3 Tips for Managing Anxiety in Anxious Times
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week.
Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know that I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and I am prone to depressive episodes - which can be tricky to manage in normal times, let alone during a global pandemic!
After the year that we have had and the amount of change, isolation and fright we have had to endure, I think it is more important than ever to start and maintain conversations about mental health.
We've all had different experiences during this pandemic and this may have resulted in some people experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression for the first time or experienced exacerbated existing symptoms.
Before we go any further, if you feel overwhelmed by symptoms of mental illness or you haven't experienced symptoms of mental illness before, please seek advice from your doctor or a professional - there is also a list of helpline numbers at the bottom of this post, if you need to speak to someone.
If you're like me, despite us looking like we are coming out of lockdown, anxiety is building again, as if we are entering a new lockdown.
Being invited to social engagements, plans of returning into an office space and even going back to band have caused anxiety - not because I've become some kind of hermit who doesn't want anything to do with society... some of us just find coping with change a bit more difficult and that's fine!
Now, I'm not a doctor or a psychologist, I'm just a person who has a mental illness and has tried lots of different things to cope with overwhelming thoughts and panic.
Furthermore, I'm not going to pretend that the tips in this post are any kind of substitute for medication or medical treatment - I do have prescription medication for the days when my anxiety is debilitating.
These are just a few little self-care activities that I've been using to help organise my thoughts and manage mild symptoms as best as I can - sometimes it's helpful to find out what others do to help them cope with their own symptoms and try them yourself!
If you're feeling a little panicky or overwhelmed at the moment, I hope these tips help!
I have never really been a successful 'diary keeper'.
I tried to keep one in high school and quickly got bored after the topics of conversation became a rotation of exam stress and rambling about various crushes I had.
After being diagnosed with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), my counsellor suggested keeping a diary to note everything that I was feeling and to track my thoughts and mood.
That also fizzled out eventually, because I felt as if I was whinging all the time (which I wasn't - but that's the way my mind worked) and it didn't make me feel particularly good.
Fast forward to the end of last year where I was really struggling with overthinking and catastrophising and was looking for a way to deal with it when I stumbled upon 'prompted journaling'.
'Prompted Journaling' is where you pick a journal prompt (usually a question you have to answer or a specific topic you have to explore) and you write for as long as you want focusing on that prompt.
As it was very similar to writing for the blog, I managed to stick to it and it has really helped to empty my head and also helped me to learn more about myself, the way my mind works, my traits and triggers that affect my mental health.
Another method is 'brain dumping'.
Simply open an empty page (writing first thing in the morning or last thing before bed works particularly well) and write down everything that is currently living in your head - worries, thoughts, plans - it doesn't have to be cohesive or even make sense, just write until you feel there is nothing left in your head!
My preferred method is 'prompted journaling' and there are loads of prompt lists on social media and online, including lists that are focused on a particular topic such as anxiety or self-discovery.
I use journal prompts from @soul.nudges on Instagram - her prompts are absolutely fantastic and cover a range of topics.
This was a tip I picked up from a Tik Tok video (yes, I'm down with the kids!) - if you struggle with intrusive thoughts or overthinking, this is for you!
I've been really grateful for mental health professionals who have been utilising social media to offer tips and advice on managing symptoms of mental illnesses and coping with stress.
Anyway, this technique involves picking a particular time slot during the day and allowing yourself to worry, as much as you want within that time slot.
The catch is that you aren't allowed to spend any time in the day dwelling on any worries - you have to save them all up for that specific time slot.
For example my 'worry time' is 7pm and it's for half an hour.
If any intrusive thoughts or worries pop into my head before that time, instead of falling down the rabbit hole of overthinking and catastrophising, I have to file it away until 7pm.
What I've noticed is that the little thoughts that are irrelevant (but I would still spend a silly amount of time sitting there worrying about them) are forgotten by the time I get to 7pm and the big worries I have time to mull over.
So what do I actually do with these worries during 'worry time'?
Rather than, again, letting those thoughts spiral into catastrophe, I try and work through the problem by analysing what the worst-case scenario would be and what I would do if it happened.
Example: I worried about going to band for the first time, but I filed the worry away until 'worry time'. During 'worry time' I concluded that the worst-case scenario would be a panic attack in front of my bandmates in the middle of a park which (although unpleasant) wouldn't be a complete disaster, as I had my other half with me, I was in an open space and if it did happen, my band would be understanding - not quite as daunting when put into perspective!
I've found this method helps me to recognise the worry (rather than brush it under the carpet to fester into a bigger problem) and reinforces the mindset that, no matter what happens, I can and will find a way to deal with it.
After your time slot is over, that's it for the day and any worries that crop up afterwards have to be saved until your next 'worry time' slot.
It take a bit of discipline to make yourself wait until your allotted time, but (with a bit of practise) it has really helped to control my overthinking - I would recommend!
This is a well-known technique to help with anxiety and panic attacks and also can help with performance anxiety before taking to the stage - multifunctional!
You can do square breathing anywhere, but it's best to sit on the floor or on a chair with your feet placed firmly on the floor to help you feel grounded.
How to do square breathing:
Breathe all the way out, slowly, so your lungs are empty
Gently exhale in, slowly and through your nose, for the count of 4
At the end of the first count of 4, hold your breath for another count of 4
Gently exhale, through your mouth, for the count of 4
Hold for the count of 4 and repeat the process
My brain works at about a mile a minute, so I do get overwhelmed rather easily and I can make entire mountain ranges that could rival the 'Rockies' out of molehills - square breathing really helps to avoid this!
I hope these tips are helpful and remember that this isn't forever - you are strong and you are doing great!
Reach out to somebody, whether it's a friend, family member or helpline and try not to hold in your feelings.
Talking to someone, having a cry or even screaming into a pillow can help to release tension and clear our head.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and need to speak to someone here is a list of helplines that may be helpful:
Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/ | Call: 116123
Papyrus: https://www.papyrus-uk.org/ | Call: 0800 068 4141 | Text: 07860 039 967
CALM: https://www.thecalmzone.net/ | Call: 0800 58 58 58
Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/ | Call: 0300 123 3393 | Text: 86463
The Blurt Foundation: https://www.blurtitout.org/
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline | Call: 0300 330 0630 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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