The world is trying to get to some sort of “post-pandemic” world, even as the virus continues to affect us daily. Governments and businesses are desperately trying to adapt to a “new normal” where items such as how we socialise, methods of travel and working from home are top of the agenda. At this time, there are many moving parts – it can be incredibly overwhelming for us to find our own way as things start to open up. It is very normal that when looking down the pipeline at the upcoming few months, it can feel scary.
As we think about 2022, most people feel stressed and worried about returning to some sense of normality. Over the past 18 months, we have adjusted our routines, habits and interactions drastically. It has been exhausting and has meant that we have been in a constant state of high alert. For many, it has felt like a survival game where we are often in a fight, flight or freeze response. This reaction is our body’s way of keeping us safe, which is very useful in genuine life-threatening situations. However, if we are constantly in this state with hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) flying around our bodies on a day-to-day basis, it just uses up a lot of energy. In short, enduring the past couple of years has left many of us feeling weary.
So, looking forward, even the thought of having to re-enter workplaces and social interactions again, can leave us feeling drained. The American Psychological Association ran a survey that found that nearly 50% of Americans feel uneasy about resuming in-person interactions. Stress levels are high, and we are trying to find the right balance for ourselves and those closest to us (family, peers, colleagues etc). Moreover, we have learnt that things can change very quickly, and often other people are making decisions for our safety, such as businesses and governments. We are not able to make all the decisions that we might want to, and, in a heartbeat, our own best-laid plans and intentions can be out of the window.
Top Tips for Managing Stress
I wanted to share my top 5 tips, which will ensure you reduce your stress levels and improve your resilience to deal with challenges that you are facing as we head into the new year.
One of the most important places to start is figuring out your boundaries. Boundaries are important and give us clarity around where and what our limitations are. As things open up, it can be very difficult to work out what you need, rather than what other people are asking of you. We are all different and will have different needs. Therefore, some people might be desperate to go to a large social event, whereas for another person, meeting one friend for a walk outdoors will be quite enough.
It is a fine balance between being open and saying “yes” to some things, but also knowing when you need to say “no”. If you say “yes” to everything and bend and flex to meet other people’s needs, I can guarantee that your anxiety levels will increase. Likewise, if you say “no” to everything and stay safe in your cocoon, that can also be restrictive and anxiety inducing.
Finding the sweet spot in the middle is difficult, but something you need to work out. Start by asking yourself simple questions such as, “Am I happy to go on public transport?” or “am I okay with dining in a restaurant?”. Getting clarity from these types of questions will help you to define your boundaries. Then when people are asking things of you, you will be clearer on where you stand and most importantly what will stop you spiralling into a frenzy of panic. Rather than feeling obliged to accept and feeling horrendous after, you can respond in a way that is in line with what you need.
NB – boundaries are hard as they can change. However, the clearer you are on where yours are right now, the easier it becomes. By setting clear guidelines and protecting yourself and what is important to you, the more likely it is for anxiety to take a breather.
I often get asked, what to do in the moment of anxiety. As we try and find our way with all the changes happening around us, it can feel very overwhelming minute by minute. For me, when I start to feel anxious, it is as though a current of electricity runs through my body and I almost feel “whizzy”. My shoulders tighten, everything clenches up and it can feel all-consuming. In that very moment, I need to “get rid” of that nervous energy.
So, give this a try… stand up tall and flick out your hands to your side. As you do so, imagine that the nervous energy is flicking out of your fingertips and dripping away from you. Next, run your hands down your arms, creating friction, to get rid of the energy through your fingertips. Finally, jiggle your whole body – shaking the anxiety out of your system.
We forget that our breath is (unsurprisingly!!) with us at every given moment. We can get so caught up in a moment that we forget to breathe, or we breathe very high up in our chest, all tight and sprung up. There is tonnes of research around deep belly breathing and its benefits. So, in a stressful and anxious moment, remember to take a few deep, proper breaths.
Start by breathing in for a count of 3, holding for 3 and then breathing out for 3. If you are dealing with a challenging situation or feel stressed, this is a perfect time to take a few deep breaths. Breathe, calm yourself, reset and then go back in again to try and deal with the situation when you are more composed and calm.
As you get better at breathing, try to increase the 3-3-3 to 4-4-4, right the way up to 7-7-7 (7 in, 7 hold, 7 out). Breathing is the most powerful tool to get your heartrate to slow, as well as to calm your body down. You just need to remember to do it, so pop a sticky note up somewhere you will see it.
Focus on the Here & Now
We can become so consumed with the future; trying to control and predict things that are going to happen months from now. It can mean that anxiety can spiral quite quickly as we desperately try to plan out what is coming down the track. The one thing that is guaranteed is that things are uncertain. Being able to take yourself out the frame of mind of trying to predict the future can be helpful.
For different people, different things work – some people like mindfulness, taking slow walks, coming back into the present with exercise, meditation, breathing, gratitude journal, painting etc. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, just find what works for you to bring your attention and focus back on the present. Perhaps even just questioning: How can I make the next 5 minutes happier? Ask yourself, what would happen if I just enjoyed this right now (yes, even if it feels horrendous)? By bringing it back to these simple questions, and into this very moment, you can stop the overwhelm and make your day a little happier.
The biggest thing I have learnt from writing Generation Panic is that everyone experiences anxiety on some level. Yes, to repeat, every single person you come across (regardless of how well put together they are) will be fighting or has fought some battle that you might well not see.
So… start with opening up and leaning on your support network. Do not feel alone, as I guarantee that others close to you will be able to relate in some way. These people can help us keep our feet on the ground in moments of panic and overwhelming pressure. So right now, I want you to message one person, so that you know that you have people you can rely on and are not alone. Do not try and get through all of this solo – even if you are not ready to open up to a broader network, find at least one person who can support you.
You can tackle your anxiety by trying out these five easy and simple tips, so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and debilitating. Despite the future feeling stressful, we have been here before and we will get through it again. Often things are less difficult than we anticipate they will be, and we do get through them. Just take a moment to think of everything you have already done over the past 18 months and the challenges that you have got through (even if at first they seemed insurmountable).
Good luck, you can do it! If you would like more tailored support or advice, please feel free to send me a message or book an appointment.
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