Is anyone else struggling with post-lockdown anxiety? Life without restaurants and yoga studios and holidays was hard, but it was also simpler. Now that the world has opened up again, I’ve found myself torn between so many competing demands. How am I going to fit everything in? Who haven’t I remembered to get in touch with? Am I doing any of this right? Ugh.
However, as someone who has struggled with anxiety since childhood, I have at least built up a decent range of strategies for dealing with it. When I start to notice anxious thoughts taking over, these are the things I find most helpful.
Disclaimer: It’s important I point out that I am not a mental health professional and I am just sharing what works for me in the hope that it may help someone else too. Anxiety is far more talked about than it used to be, and I’m glad about that, but it is still a medical condition. If you are struggling, please seek professional help. There is lots of practical advice and guidance about anxiety, fear and panic on the NHS website.
My personal strategies for dealing with anxiety
- Journalling. This is my go-to for when my head is too full of thoughts and I know I need to spend some time untangling them before I expect the rest of the world to have to deal with me. Often I like to free write, which is writing as a stream of consciousness without any regard for structure, form or content, and see what unfurls. Sometimes I use a journal prompt to kickstart some more creative reflections and sometimes I write about what’s wrong and I keeping going until I’ve figured out a way to feel better.
- Yoga. You may have guessed this one already. I write about yoga, I do yoga, I teach yoga – it’s clearly a big part of my life. But in many ways it was anxiety that drew me to yoga. If like me you are an over-thinker, getting out of your head and into your body is essential. Uniting breath with movement helps to keep your attention on the present and away from your racing thoughts. What kind of yoga is best for anxiety is probably a post for another time, but the main thing is to take the pressure off. You don’t need to do an intense 2 hour vinyasa flow practice, unless you want to. Just get yourself onto your yoga mat for 10 minutes, breathe and move.
- Self acupressure. Ok, this one is a little out there, but bear with me. Last week, I had a nasty cold. I was feeling too ill for yoga, too tired for journalling, but I knew I needed to do something. I tried the self acupressure techniques in this video for stimulating the vagus nerve, and within minutes, I felt calmer than I had in days. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
- Getting outside in nature. This is my favourite way to tackle anxiety – getting outside, whatever the weather. Especially if you spend long days working inside, maybe at your computer screen for most of the day, this is the pefect antidote.It matters less what you do – walking, running, paddleboarding (I’m a big fan!), cycling – all can be great. The key thing is:
- See the sky
- Breathe the air
- Move around
- Remind yourself that there is a natural world which is both bigger than you and connected to you.
- Meditation. I’ve put this further down the list, because when I’m in a state of acute anxiety, it’s actually not something I find helpful – I need to try the other things on the list first. However, as once I’ve done my journalling or my yoga or whatever else I need to move the immediate anxiety along a stage, then sitting down to meditate is wonderful. It’s also a great longer term strategy for dealing with stress and anxiety before it arises. I try to make at least five minutes for meditation as part of my morning routine before I start work. If silent meditation feels overwhelming, try this beautiful, short guided meditation from Mooji.
Creating your own anxiety toolkit
As a final bonus point, one thing I’ve found it useful is to create for myself a little anxiety toolkit. It’s essentially a list of all the things I can try that help me to work through anxiety and ultimately feel better. I keep these on my phone, so that when I have a low moment, I can check in with it and feel inspired to try at least one of the things to move myself out of the funk.
The transition into winter can be tough, especially this year with post-lockdown anxiety and ongoing pandemic uncertainty, so be kind to yourself, and let me know if you find any of these useful. If you have other strategies for dealing with anxiety that work for you, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.