The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is anxiety. Anxiety is a normal emotion in us all, but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem.
Lots of things can lead to feelings of anxiety, including exam pressures, relationships, starting a new job (or losing one) or other big life events. We can also get anxious when it comes to things to do with money and not being able to meet our basic needs, like heating our home or buying food.
But anxiety can be made easier to manage.
Have a read through the following suggestions from the Mental Health Foundation and find out what might work for you.
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. Any amount of exercise will help.
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.
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. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Eat well
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.
Download the Mental Health Foundation’s What can we do to cope with anxiety guide.