Having suffered with anxiety in the past, I am now in a place where I can often identify the signs and triggers where my anxiety may make a return. Recently with the rise in petrol prices, the weekly food shopping bill going up and the huge rise in energy prices, those familiar thoughts and feelings began to creep in once again.
For me it instantly begins with worry, but this quickly gets worse. What begins as what I would deem as ‘normal’ levels of concern, soon leaves me thinking about every possible outcome for me, my family, my home, my job – the list goes on.
Some of these outcomes, if I shared with others, would seem obviously illogical. And I would tell myself the same once the anxiety has subsided. But when the anxiety rises, the most dreadful of possibilities seem very real. This leaves me feeling tense and unable to relax, constantly watching the news, reading articles online and developing stronger and deeper feelings of dread.
Physically, my stomach feels as though it is in a huge knot. I feel nauseous. This feeling lasts all day. And then we have the tears, which come often for what feels like little or no reason. This is also accompanied with difficulty sleeping – just lying there thinking, going over things again and again. That alone is less than ideal; having a 17-month-old daughter means sleep is already a privilege!
It is at this point when I realise that, if I’ve any chance to stop the feelings getting any worse, I need to pay attention to what my mind and body are telling me. And I know how it feels when it gets worse – I’ve been there. Over the years of these feelings coming and eventually going, I now have a toolkit of coping mechanisms that have helped me put anxiety back in its box.
One of the most effective tools is called ‘The Five Ways of Wellbeing’, which I discovered a few years ago. I started to try and embed these into my life as much as possible. I soon found myself doing them less often as things got busy or I found other ways to spend my time. But when these feelings come back, I make a conscious effort to include the Five Ways in my daily life. Here are The Five Ways of Wellbeing and how I make them work for me:
1. Connect – connecting with others around us to remind us that we are important and valued by others.
This is the most important one for me. I seem to go into my shell when these feelings begin to appear. So instead of burying my head, I make plans. Dinner with friends at my favourite restaurant, visiting parents for a chilled- out Sunday, date night with my partner etc. These things aren’t always possible so at the very least, but most importantly, I share. I let people around me that know I can struggle, how I feel, what my concerns are, and the different outcomes that I worry could happen. This instantly helps.
2. Be active – making sure we regularly move our bodies as there is a proven link between physical and mental health.
Now, I am by no means a gym goer but I still make this work for me. I use my lunch breaks to take a 15-minute walk and get some fresh air. But one of my favourite ways to be active is to dance around the living room with my daughter, seeing her giggle while I break out my best mum moves!
3. Take notice – taking notice of our thoughts, emotions and surroundings is a great way to stay present and pay attention to our needs.
It is very easy for me to be incredibly negative when I am suffering with anxiety, so at the end of each day I spend some time thinking about the positives. Even on the bad days, I force myself to consider what I have to be grateful for. I often try to tackle some of the life admin I’ve been meaning to get to – this always gives me a great sense of achievement. But the one thing that I always find helps the most is to take in my surroundings. So when I go for a walk, making sure I actively take notice of what I see, hear, smell and feel. Sometimes I set myself challenges too: for example, can I find two interesting things along the way and take pictures of them? This could be everything from graffiti to insects!
4. Keep learning – continuing to learn through life enhances self-esteem and encourages social interaction and a more active life.
As a curious person I find this probably the easiest to maintain. I love to try new recipes, learning how to use new ingredients and making something for others to enjoy. I have also started to pick up learning Spanish again as I had a real passion for this in the past. But this could be as simple as learning something new about a colleague, or a new word to add to my vocabulary.
5. Give – participation in social and community life
There are loads of opportunities to volunteer and where I can I like to provide support to schools with work experience events. One of the easiest ways I give back is by trying to do one kind thing a day. This can be for others but also for yourself.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that mental wellbeing is something most people need to work at. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety or another mental health condition, applying even one or two elements of the Five Ways will almost certainly create a noticeable improvement in how you feel.
Further Reading – Five Ways to Wellbeing: