32. Working positively with anxiety
Updated: Jun 5
A recent survey studying the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across the UK highlighted that nearly half of those surveyed were feeling high levels of anxiety – 25 million people. Reading this came with a heavy tug to my heart for our collective and very real struggles, it is hard to wrap your head around and not feel helpless, however there are things we can do to take care of ourselves any others.
Anxiety is a natural emotion felt when life feels distinctly out of kilter. But it is also contagious. We like to pass it on.
"Once a client becomes anxious, their primary goal becomes to make you anxious, because that justifies their own anxiety" said designer Mike Monteiro in an old essay for his students (worth a read! https://deardesignstudent.com/don-t-adopt-anxiety-6662515d2416)
Anyone else noticed how in recent weeks we feed our own anxieties? Choosing to watch the 6pm then the 10pm news, then firing up the tablet to check out the BBC website for further news about the news that's happened in the last five seconds since I last saw the news! We get caught up in worry-thinking and it can become a behaviour - we then end up feeling like we are doing something by worrying! So, we repeat the loop, and in doing so, wear ourselves out, creating worry-loops that become patterns of repetitive behaviour that turn into habits, and before we know it we are on Covid-19- or economic downturn watch 24/7.
We share that anxiety driven behaviour too in the sharing of media posts, we engage in things we've heard on the grapevine with friends and family, war stories, tales of struggles, of challenges, of a friend who caught Covid and they had XYZ symptom…we do it more than we realise. I am pointing a return finger squarely back at myself here too.
But how do we catch ourselves in the act, choosing actions that are more beneficial not just for ourselves but to reduce the anxiety felt by others?
Take a pause in your day and reflect on your own worry-loops – what behaviours are starting to become a habit? How can you disrupt these patterns and do something kinder instead such as taking a short walk or a simple breathing exercise?
Noticing thoughts – probably THE most important practice – reminding yourself that thoughts are mental events we do not have to identify them as being 'ours' but a mental event that have happened to us. We do not have to jump on board with that train of thought that takes us off to worryville.
Practice a kindness meditation, one that takes you and others into your line of vision and spreads a little kindness instead (one is attached).
Take a digital break, it's obvious, but it's not easy, we get a reward dopamine hit every time we reach for our phone or tablet but see if you can catch yourself in the moment and reward yourself with the notion that by doing so you are practicing kindness and care.
Our mindfulness practice gives us that pause button between stimulus, and response. Use a deep breath to take a pause, and give you space to decide on your next course of action.
Don't pass anxiety on, resist the temptation to share those social media posts/war stories etc…if you are listening to someone sharing their anxieties, simply acknowledge their story, their hurt, and hold a space for them to talk by simply listening, that can be the kindest thing you can do.
Help others – the activity of inactivity – re-framing our actions as not just benefitting us, but others also. You keep R at less than 1. That in of itself can feel hugely positive and rewarding – and when we feel a reward for our behaviour, we want to continue with that behaviour.
Practice deep listening of others – often we may jump subconsciously into fix-it mode, it is natural for us to want to help others, it is what makes humanity so brilliant. However, care can also manifest simply by listening and that can take the pressure off you to feel you need to offer up something, and on them having to accept advice they may not have wanted or feel they need. Next time you are in conversation with a loved one having a tough time, see if you can spot if the person is asking you for your thoughts or simply asking you to listen.
Henry David Thoroeau said 'The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and then attended to my answer' 'How are you?' then turn up, park thoughts, and simply listen to their answer.
Go kindly, and know you are not alone, reach out if you need to, there are links to external support networks and organisations in the Resources section. You matter.