Sometimes we find ourselves so hyperactive with anxiety that we can’t sleep properly, our digestive system is topsy-turvy, and our minds simply will not switch off. Add tiredness to the mix, and we have a recipe for a descending spiral of mental ill-health.
What tools and tips can we use to reduce the pressure on ourselves? Here is a ‘top 4’ of tried and tested techniques.
#1 – GUIDED RELAXATION EXERCISES
Following the guidance of a calm voice is a good way to lower your emotional temperature, because it gains your attention, and prevents you running away too far into your anxious thoughts. A guiding voice provides a reassuring presence.
See this link for a well-presented 10-minute guided relaxation session:
#2 – TALKING WITH A TRUSTED FRIEND OR COUNSELLOR
Conversation works well to reduce tension in mind and body. When we are anxious and distracted, our mind runs ‘in parallel’ – meaning that it flies off in lots of different directions at once. When we are speaking in a focused way, with a trusted person listening carefully, our minds run ‘in series’ – meaning that we focus on one direction: the direction of the sentence we are speaking.
A good listener also ‘holds us’. This means that we are contained by the experience. Just as a young child is contained by a mother’s arms, so an adult mind can be contained by a listening carer who is unconditionally accepting, understanding, and trustworthy.
#3 – TAKING EXERCISE
Exercise is almost guaranteed to improve mental health and reduce anxiety. It can be a walk, however short. Exercise is known to change hormonal balance, reduce resting heart rate, and even increase confidence. Exercise also focuses our attention outwards onto our immediate physical environment, and away from our inner obsessive narrative.
See this link for a good summary of how and why exercise is good for anxiety:
#4 – LISTING 3 VERY SIMPLE TASKS, AND THEN DOING THEM
Anxiety has an urgency which means that the mind is trying too hard to work through complexities. It cannot switch off, or even turn the energy down. One way to bring the mind to easy focus, is to get out a pen and paper, and list the next three things we want to do. The simpler the list, and the shorter the tasks, the better. For instance, it could be 1. Go to the toilet, 2. Do the washing up, 3. Go for a short walk.
When each task is complete, we can tick the item. This makes us focus on starting and ending, giving us a sense of focus and achievement. When the three tasks are completed, then we can make another list of three simple items.
There are many reasons why this works. It enhances executive function. It increases self-esteem by reminding us that we can complete tasks. And it gives us variety in our activities, getting us out of the monotonous rut of morbid rumination.
If you find yourself suffering from acute anxiety, then try one of four things:
- Starting a guided relaxation exercise
- Having a conversation with a trusted friend or counsellor
- Going for a short walk
- Performing a simple list of three short tasks
When in acute anxiety, it can be hard to get through every moment. The above four suggestions are a menu of easy-to-start activities which can change our body’s hormonal balance, and get our mind working with us, not against us.