When you’re feeling anxious, and there are so many thoughts racing around your head, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.
The important thing to know is it doesn't have to be this way. There are many things you can do to manage your anxiety, as well as a wealth of support if you feel you need to reach out to someone.
In times like this, the world can wait a while. In fact, one way to manage everyday anxiety is to go back to basics and focus on the most important thing: looking after yourself.
Although self-care is not the sole solution for severe anxiety disorders, you should always consult a medical professional in these instances; it can help you cope with the day-to-day causes of stress. That’s why, in line with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve put together some top tips for managing anxiety with self-care.
Self-Care Activities To Reduce Anxiety
Although it can help to reduce those feelings of anxiety, a solid self-care routine looks a little different for everyone. However, there are tried-and-tested activities that are recommended by experts. Let's take a look.
Nurture Your Social Life
Spending time with others is a great way to vocalise (and rationalise) your thoughts, share experiences and generally distract yourself from anxious feelings. Importantly, it can give you a different perspective on things when those unhelpful feelings start to swirl.
"If you can, try to spend some time connecting with friends and family – even a text or phone call can make a difference," recommends the mental health experts at Mind.
But if you don't have a support network around you, there are organisations online that can help you connect with others. Groups such as Talk Club and Andy's Man Club can be a great way to share experiences with like-minded individuals.
Make Room For Mindfulness
There's been a lot of research into the positive effects of mindfulness on anxiety. One study, in particular, reviewed more than 200 papers on the subject and found mindfulness-based therapy was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
With that in mind, here are some free NHS-recommended relaxation exercises focused on calming anxiety by keeping you present in the moment - whether at home, on your lunch break or even when you're out getting some fresh air or exercise.
Regularly Raise Your Heartbeat
We now know that high levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are associated with anxiety. Aerobic exercise not only reduces the effects of these hormones; it promotes the release of 'mood boosters' like endorphins too. It can help to take your mind away from anxious thoughts and feelings and encourage you to focus on something else - concentrating on your movement and breathing instead.
So how much exercise should you incorporate into your self-care routine to make a difference?
"Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms," says Mayo Clinic. But even smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — can make a positive difference, they say. And that's in the day and at night.
That's because one of the biggest benefits of exercise is that it can help contribute to a better night's sleep. Pretty important when various studies have shown that sleep deprivation is a known cause of anxiety - even in otherwise healthy people.
So, what can you do?
Make Time For Yourself
Research suggests that sleepless nights can trigger up to a 30% rise in emotional stress levels. Unfortunately, feeling anxiety during the day and getting a good night's sleep aren't the most natural bedfellows.
"Anxiety can get worse at night as people find themselves focusing more on their worries once they are lying in bed without the distractions of the day," says Jay Summer at the Sleep Foundation.
The problem is that if we don't take steps to alleviate anxious feelings when we're awake, they can trigger our body's stress response, and it's this that makes us feel too 'wound up' or agitated to sleep.
At MindJournal, we're big believers in making time for ourselves. Whether that's a 20-minute yoga session, a soak in the tub or scribbling in your journal, self-care can work wonders in the evening when you're looking to unwind.
Finding activities that help you relax, bring you joy and clear your mind will help you to unwind, relax and take time for yourself, hopefully leading to a more restful night's sleep.
While activities such as socialising, mindfulness and exercise are all essential parts of self-care, if your anxiety is affecting your everyday life and causing concern, your first step should always be reaching out to a medical professional and letting those closest to you know how you are feeling.
It's also important to remember that you're not alone. Many great organisations, both on and offline, can also offer support and resources for a variety of anxiety disorders.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to manage anxiety alone. There are lots of helpful resources online that can support you. If your symptoms persist or worsen, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or an emergency crisis line.
Please note that the following organisations are UK and US-based, but many resources are accessible online.
Anxiety UK - from general advice around coping with panic attacks to specific breathing and relaxation exercises, Anxiety UK has a number of free downloadable resources online. You can also contact the organisation at 03444 775 774 (helpline) or 07537 416 905 (text).
Anxiety Care UK - this organisation can point you towards a variety of mental health support services. These include support groups and face-to-face-counselling for anxiety.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) - from self-help books to a directory of ADAA-approved therapists, this organisation has a wide variety of online resources. Please note: the ADAA does not provide direct psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. So if you do feel like you are in a crisis, please dial 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
Anxiety Resource Center - this organisation has links to specific topics like agoraphobia, workplace stress and advice for loved ones who are supporting someone with anxiety.
No More Panic - No More Panic provides information, support and advice for people suffering from panic disorders, anxiety, phobias or OCD, including an online forum and chat room.
No Panic - this organisation provides a helpline (0300 7729844), step-by-step programmes, and support for people with anxiety disorders. You can also sign up for free monthly support emails on their website.
Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK) - TOP UK can point you towards self-help therapy groups and general support around OCD, phobias and related anxiety disorders.
Other Useful Numbers
NHS 111 – 24 hour helpline (call 111)
Samaritans - 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Mind – call 0300 123 3393 and email firstname.lastname@example.org
CALM - crisis line: 0800 58 58 58 (5 pm-midnight)