Anxious or Anxiety?: The signs and solutions to the anxiety crisis

The pandemic has triggered an anxiety crisis, and psychologist Tracey Moggeridge offers tips on managing it

Anxiety is on the rise during the pandemic – and it’s affecting everyone. Tracey Moggeridge, Mindfulness Practitioner at business psychology firm Pearn Kandola, encourages people to address their anxiety and call it out as an action for self-care.

As if 2020 wasn’t challenging enough, people still started this year with moderate or severe anxiety. In fact, 42% of adults reported having high anxiety levels due to the virus, according to a recent study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This is largely due to the mass redundancies, furlough and working from home – none of which we thought we would continue to see in 2021. With furlough extended until March, many have spent almost a year isolated at home, scared to leave for fear of getting ill or passing on the virus, while others have been heroically battling it on the front line.

What makes the problem worse is that so many people will be unaware that what they’re feeling is anxiety and won’t know how to deal with it. Either that or they will have simply learned to live with it, viewing it as something that they can’t control.

Yet, there is always hope. By developing an understanding of what anxiety is, we can start to identify how it affects us and what triggers it. Once we befriend it and start to see it as a call to action, rather than an uncontrollable affliction, we can develop coping techniques that allow us to find a sense of calm in our lives.

So, what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural human response that we experience when we think we’re under threat. It helps us to avoid dangerous situations and motivates us to solve problems.

The difficulty arises when it starts to grow from mild and occasional into a full-blown anxiety disorder. This is when it starts to interfere with our daily lives, negatively impacting our hobbies, work, and relationships.

It’s important to remember though, that many people don’t fit neatly into any one box. Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways and will vary from person to person.

What are the signs that what I’m feeling is in fact anxiety?

There are three different types of manifestation when it comes to anxiety: physical, psychological and behavioural.

Physical manifestations include sweating, dizziness, heart palpitations, shaking and restlessness.

Psychological manifestations include excessive worrying, a racing mind, difficulty concentrating, irritability, struggling to make decisions and unwanted, repetitive thoughts.

Behavioural manifestations include distancing yourself from loved ones, avoiding hobbies and/or social situations, and avoiding things you find hard or challenging.

If any of the above resonate with you, you might be suffering from anxiety.

How do I know if I’m feeling anxious?

Often, we find it hard to identify these manifestations in the moment, so it can help to find a quiet moment at the end of the day to check in with yourself and reflect. The more you can practice this and get better at noticing any patterns in how you’re feeling throughout the day, the easier it will be to deploy some of the activities that bring calm and balance.

What are some practical ways to manage anxiety?

While at times, anxiety can be difficult to control, particularly during the current climate where there is so much uncertainty, you can put a few fundamental things in place to support yourself. Once you get these right, you’ll find yourself making great strides.

  • Care – Create a habit of self-care that centres around the things that nurture your own wellbeing.
  • Sleep – Ensure you’re getting enough and that a good night’s sleep is part of your daily routine.
  • Reduce – Cut down on things like caffeine and alcohol as these can aggravate our anxiety levels.
  • Eat – Our natural tendency is to reach for the biscuit tin. But the best way to support ourselves is to think about the foods that nourish us and incorporate these into our diet.
  • Wiggle – Make sure you’re getting enough exercise. Try to get outside for at least 20 minutes a day. This can broaden your horizon and see the bigger picture; anxiety often causes us to have a very narrow focus.
  • Create – Hobbies are often the first things we drop when we’re feeling anxious, so try to make time for things like painting and baking – whatever it is you love!
  • Relax – This can come in many forms, such as yoga, mindfulness practice, reading a book or slowing down.
  • Talk – You may be surprised by the connections you build by having the courage to acknowledge and share. Identify who in your social support network you can reach out to.

How can mindfulness help support us with anxiety?

Mindfulness can be a great remedy to those feeling anxious as it allows you to bring awareness into your lives. Once we start to listen to our ourselves and befriend anxiety, we can start to unravel the grip that it has on us.

Rather than making efforts to stop feeling anxious, mindfulness enables us to gently lean into our discomfort and start responding with kindness.

Mindfulness helps us notice our thoughts and reflect on their origins – like the ones we have in response to life events that can often trigger anxiety. It can also help us re-train the way we view our thoughts, seeing them as mental events happening ‘to’ us. For example, if you’re spending hours on end thinking about the same topic, asking questions such as ‘what if I get coronavirus?’ ‘What if I pass it on?’, mindfulness can help you to disassociate from these thoughts in a helpful way.

When we start to notice our own thoughts, we’re then better placed to understand where the physical and psychological manifestations of anxiety come from.  

When your head is busy, here are a few mindfulness practices you can try:

  • The physiological sigh – When in doubt, sigh it out. Take two deep breaths in, and then let it go. This does two things: it helps us rebalance the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, and it also tells our neurological system that everything is fine.
  • Get into your senses – So many of us spend all of our time in our heads, so tapping into our senses can help us to find balance. Explore your surroundings using all of your senses.

Start small. You might feel tempted to go on a 5-mile run, to finish that book or meditate for an hour. But a couple of breaths is sometimes all you need. Try the five-finger breathing exercise where you use your index finger to trace the outline of your other hand or alternate nostril breathing.

By continuously working on these practical building blocks for self-care, and bringing some more mindfulness to your life, you will see something very important: you are not your anxiety; you are a person who may be experiencing a spell of anxiety.

We’re all going through some difficult times at the moment, and it’s okay not to feel your best. But always remember that you are much more than the sum of anxiety and its parts.

You can find more information on anxiety and what we can do about it by watching Tracey Moggeridge’s recent webinar: How to manage anxiety during a pandemic.
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