The official theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘anxiety’. From 15-21 May 2023, the mental health industry is focused on highlighting the effects of anxiety and how to manage them safely.
Although anxiety is considered a normal part of the emotions spectrum, for some people it can become difficult to control and develop into a mental health problem. These days, the pressures on our society, from social media to the cost of living crisis, has caused a significant rise in the number of people seeking help for anxiety related issues.
A recent survey from The Mental Health Foundation about stress over personal finances showed that a quarter of adult participants were experiencing anxiety bad enough to affect their daily lives some or all of the time.
The good news is that anxiety can be managed and sometimes overcome with practise, patience, and mindfulness work.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, here are some useful tips on how to manage it…
1. Concentrate on breathing
Anxiety can make you feel like you’re drowning in negative thoughts, which can lead to panic and hyperventilation. One of the best things you can do to manage your escalating emotions is to focus on your breath and nothing else.
But how can you focus on breathing when your brain is going 1,000 miles per hour, right? Here are a couple of really helpful techniques to block out the world and zone in on simply inhaling and exhaling.
The first is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s very simple; all you need to do is breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and release for 8 seconds. And if counting feels too overwhelming in the midst of an anxiety attack, just focus on exhaling for longer than you inhale as it will help to regulate your breathing.
If you’re a more visual person, the ‘box technique’ might be a useful tool. No matter where you are, all you need to do is find an object or surface with four sides. It could be a wall or floor tile, the wall or floor itself, or a smaller object like a TV, cupboard door, or even your smartphone.
Trace your eyes around the four edges and breathe in for 4 seconds as you trace one edge, hold for 4 seconds as you trace the next edge, exhale for 4 seconds for the third edge, and relax for 4 seconds for the fourth edge. Repeat as many times as needed to recenter yourself. Giving yourself something visual to focus on can provide a welcome mental distraction to those sneaky negative thoughts.
2. Get outside and move
Exercise is one of the cheapest and most underrated forms of mental health therapy. That’s not to say that it will solve all your problems, because plenty of mental health issues need intensive help and/or medication from trained professionals, but it can alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean a heavy workout. If the thought of intense exercise feels too much, why not do some simple yoga stretches or go for a gentle swim.
If you’re well and able, try getting into the fresh air for a walk, run or bike ride. Studies show that being outside in nature can reduce stress levels and promote healthy breathing.
It may seem counterproductive because anxiety can make you want to stay home and rest, but be kind to yourself and go at a pace that works for you. There is no right or wrong way to exercise.
3. Write down how you feel
Opening up about mental health issues can be scary. It’s normal to fear being judged or misunderstood by others and for many, choosing to suffer in silence is easier than sharing their emotions.
If you’re frightened to share but feel like you need an outlet for your thoughts and emotions, free-writing is a great tool. Sit down in a calm environment with a notepad and pen (or at your computer if you prefer to type) and just start writing. Try not to over-concentrate on what you’re writing. Start with some simple words that come to your mind and you can eventually move to full sentences that might provide some insight into your deepest thoughts and feelings.
You can also try keeping a diary of when you feel anxious and what you’ve done that day. Over time, you might notice some patterns and learn what most triggers you.
(By the way, you can still give writing a go even if you have people you feel comfortable talking to!)
4. Question your thoughts
Overthinking is a common part of anxiety. When we overthink, we can easily play the same thoughts over and over in our minds and believe everything we tell ourselves. It’s therefore important to catch, question and challenge these intrusive thoughts before they can escalate.
Next time you’re overthinking and battling your internal dialogue, write down how you feel and ask yourself the following questions:
These questions can help you see the bigger picture and approach your thoughts from a more rational position.
5. Take care of your health
It sounds cliche, but a healthy body can really promote a healthy mind. Prioritise sleep - go to bed an hour earlier and avoid screens an hour before bed if possible. Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake, eat healthy food as often as possible, take regular breaks at work, and drink plenty of water.
And of course, if you ever feel like your anxiety is becoming too difficult to manage, seek the help of a mental health professional.
How are we promoting good mental health at Your World?
At Your World, we offer our team members Vitality health insurance, which provides quick access to mental health therapy. We also provide free bereavement counselling & probate advice, as well as 24/7 access to a GP via SmartHealth. Three mental health first aiders can be found in our office too!
Oh, and we’re currently hiring! Head to our careers site to view live roles and find out more about life at Your World.