The New Year can bring an opportunity for a major overhaul in our lives. But too often, we tend to focus on physical parts of our lives, like diets, exercise routines and our careers, when really it's an opportunity to reassess our mental health.
This New Year, instead of clearing out your cupboards of junk food, clear your head by tackling your anxiety head on.
Cultivate your support circle
It’s all about knowing who you can trust at your lowest moments. Reaching out to someone when you’re feeling anxious and all over the place and maybe even unlovable is one of the most difficult things to do – but trusting them could make all the difference to your anxiety attacks.
There are many different types of anxiety, but for a lot of people it’s about their thoughts spiralling out of control and inventing ‘worst case scenarios’ that affirm our anxieties’ worst fears. Having someone there who can help you to rationalize these thoughts, or even just recognise the signs that you may be spiralling can be a huge help and one of the first steps to helping pull yourself out of the pattern of anxious thoughts.
That being said, it’s not fair to rely on one person or entirely on others to help or cure your anxiety – that’s your own journey. But having help along the way – from multiple sources that you trust – is a great way of opening up about the experience and dealing with it, rather than bottling it up.
Shore up your defences
Anxiety attacks and periods of anxiety can feel like they come out of nowhere, suddenly overwhelming you in the middle of your work day or even at a social event, but often they’re the result of many small incidents and feelings slowly breaking down your brain’s defences against these anxiety attacks, until it seems like the smallest of things sends you over the edge.
In reality, your defences against your anxiety have been worn down. If your house was being attacked, you wouldn’t just put up a wall once the whole place had been destroyed – no, you’d put up fences and walls and maybe instal some sort of alarm system of whatever you could do to protect your house. The same thing goes for your mental health. Doing breathing exercises or a meditation or whatever when you’re already having an anxiety attack can be helpful, but it is just throwing a plaster over an open wound.
Whereas practising breathing exercises, doing calming meditations or practising yoga – whatever works to calm your symptoms of anxiety – daily, or however often you can fit them in is a way or constantly shoring up your defences. These are your fences, your walls, you alarm systems against the attacks on your house, the ways of preventing the attacks from being so bad, if not stopping them all together. The coping mechanisms are in place then, to stop your defences being breached by seemingly small triggers.
Sort out your sleeping pattern
The importance of a good sleeping pattern cannot be overrated in the fight against anxious feelings – which is ironic, because sleep is one of the major things most anxious people struggle with. Research studies are only just beginning to get a grasp on what sleep does for the reset and rejuvenation of the body and mind, and studies are almost invariably showing a proper sleeping pattern – that is 7-8 hours a night – is absolutely essential to proper brain functioning.
Find exercise that works for you
If you’re anything like me, exercise can feel like an absolute chore. Sure, I love the feeling I have after it, but I’m just not one of those people who looks forward to finding the time in my day to head to the gym and sweat for an hour or so.
And yet, I’ll completely feel the effects if I don’t do it. I’ll notice the sluggishness, the lack of motivation to do much, the vaguely anxious feeling unfurling in my stomach – it’s a warning sign of pent up anxious energy.
Which is why it’s important o find a form of exercise you enjoy – not just the effects of it. Finding something you enjoy doing, whether it’s something like boxercise that makes you feel powerful, something like Zumba with friends that’s pure fun and messing around, or even as simple as finding a gym routine that works for you, it’s about finding something you look forward to doing – something you really want to do, so that there’s something more motivating you than ‘I should be doing exercise’.
Brainstorm coping mechanisms
Another area where it’s important to find out what works for you is your coping mechanisms. Let’s face it, when coping with anxiety, there is no ‘one fits all’ solution. For some, meditations really help, while they may totally irritate others. Breathing exercises can be really effective in one person and do absolutely nothing but cause another to hyperventilate.
Exploring the options out there, whether that’s aromatherapy, yoga, socialising or not socialising, it’s important to try out a few different methods – and give them a proper go – to see what works for you.
Figuring out what works means you have a whole array of options at your fingertips next time you feel the wave of anxiety triggers rising.