Anxiety is one of the most common clinical diagnoses across the world with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) affecting more than 20 million in the U.S alone. This number has surely increased since its publication in 2019 and with the global impact of covid-19, causing heightened worry and apprehension.
As difficult as these times are and how helpless many people may feel, there are always small things you can do to help minimise and manage your anxiety.
I don’t need to tell you how beneficial exercise is for your body and mind. Its rewards have been known and advertised for a long time. Whilst many of us remain at home (some still in lockdown) it becomes easier to make excuses not to exercise. Not having equipment or the space, or even the mental drive to want to exercise are amongst the most common excuses. All you need is your body and some floor space, no equipment required. Get off the sofa and get on the squats. Go for a run, go for a brisk walk and listen to your favourite podcast. Just start moving.
Get rid of some stuff. We have stuff all around us that we probably do not use very often and wouldn’t miss. Whether it’s clothes, textbooks, stationary, old towels, kitchen utensils, furniture and so much more. There are numerous rules you can apply to this process to see you through. For example: if you haven’t worn it in the past 12 months, get rid. Choose one item every day over the next year to remove from your environment. Don’t keep items out of guilt, perhaps it was gift, but if it’s just sitting there collecting dust, someone else could get more use and enjoyment from it. Don’t keep items you wouldn’t buy now. Something may have excited back then, but if it doesn’t bring you the same feeling or sentiment, what’s the point? Use these rules to free up some living space and head space. Clean environment, clean mind.
Now, I know meditation isn’t for everyone. But the thing is, if it’s not for you, you will probably get the most benefits from it, after you’ve mastered it. If there is anything that is truly a process of learning and perseverance, it’s meditation. Much like exercising, everyone meditates in their own way and finds what works for them. The important thing to remember is to keep going. Stick at it. Dedicate 10 mins of your day to setting yourself up in a comfortable position, being alone with yourself and shutting the world out. The aim is to bring calmness and peace to your mind and surroundings. Focus on your breathing. Your mind will wander and that’s ok. Accept that you drifted off to thinking about tonights dinner, the fact that you need to clean the house or the dog needs a walk. When you wander off, bring yourself back to the rhythm, sound and feeling of your breath. There are many meditation guides you can follow. Controlling your breath and controlling your racing thoughts will help you to gain control over your anxiety.
This is probably the most difficult one to do, especially right now when digital communication and interaction is all we have. However that doesn’t mean you need to be glued to a screen all hours of the day. Set a limit for yourself for phone use, watching tv or being on your computer. Take yourself away from a screen and read a book, journal, get artsy etc. Not only will this encourage you to engage in other activities, but can improve sleep, eyesight and body aches. When you are on the internet, it’s important to control the information you are consuming. There’s endless false stories, exaggerated reports and fake ‘perfect’ bodies swimming the web right now, all of which contribute to your anxiety, consciously or subconsciously. Remove apps that are useless, turn off your notifications, unfollow accounts that do not add value to your life. Control the information, before the information controls you.
Challenge Your Thoughts
How often do you have an irrational thought? How often do you challenge that thought and try to make sure it, or similar ones, do not creep into your head again and influence your emotions? Think about it, if somebody said something absurd to you and you confronted them, great. You are (hopefully) creating change by challenging that persons perspective, maybe even educating them. Apply this to your own thoughts. When you feel anxious, ask yourself what is your inner dialogue right now? What am I thinking about? And ask yourself if those thoughts are really justified and rational or just a bit wild. (see the resources section for worksheets to help you with this)
People can be toxic in so many ways: the comments they make, their beliefs, the way they treat others, what they post on socials etc. JUST GET RID OF THEM. You do not need to actively engage with people who bring nothing but toxicity to your life. If they do not bring value like love, empathy, warmth, good times, growth etc. to you, what are you hanging on to them for?
Organise your days and weeks. Make sure you have an idea of what you will be doing day to day, when you will do it and how you will do it. Without a plan you end up ‘winging it’, wasting time and in turn, inducing feelings of agitation and stress. Structure your day to suit you, we all have things we need to get done: our jobs, the kids, food, cleaning and everything else in between. Plan it out and stick to it.
These 6 lifestyle changes can lead to drastic improvements in reducing anxiety and bringing some calmness to your world. It may not work every single day and sometimes you will stray from the plan, that’s ok. Trust the process.
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