When we start to feel overwhelmed with stress, there are ways we can begin to regulate our emotions, usually by choosing to tone down negative emotions such as worry. The key word here is ‘choose’. We can choose how we direct our focus and our energy, and that in turn will change how we feel.
Most of us already have tactics to help us feel better. We might go to the gym, meditate, put on music or mindless TV, or we might listen to podcasts and audio books while we go about our day. Here are some tips that you can add to your toolkit to help you reduce your worry load:
- Limit your access to social media from time to time. It’s great to be in touch with everyone, but sites such as Facebook have also become a place where people express opinions and say hurtful things, or post items others find distressing. At times the constant newsfeed can contribute to you feeling like you are on overload. It is not always, therefore, a helpful distraction, or a positive substitute for real human interaction. So, plan to take some apps off your smartphone and make your access harder, then you can tune in for limited periods just to be in touch with people that matter, without being distracted by the ‘noise’.
- Focus on your breathing. Take a moment to be aware of the air passing in and out of your body, keeping your mouth and eyes closed, and keep your mind focused on that sensation for five minutes if you can. Be aware of the sensation of the air on your nose and how the temperature changes as it enters your nostrils and passes down into your airways, then how it feels when you breathe it out. You can count when you breathe in and out if that helps you to tame your busy brain and stay focused on your breath.
- Do not ruminate. When I see anxious clients, they usually have a subject they are focusing on exclusively, often an area of their life where they feel out of control, and it causes their mind to race. An old trick to remind yourself when you are falling into this pattern is to put an elastic band on your wrist, and each time you find your mind going back to this unhelpful place, ping the elastic band on your wrist to give yourself a little ‘snap out of it’ reminder. Then ask yourself what is one thing, however small, that you can do to begin to take control of the situation? If it is a natural disaster, can you make a donation? If you are worried about how Brexit is affecting your life, can you sign a petition or write to your MP? Can you start to make a list of pros and cons for a potential decision, or talk to someone in the same boat as you? You might not be solving the problem entirely, but do something proactive and feel better about the fact that you turned worry into action.
- Don’t let your thoughts stay trapped in your head, where they seem to form a kind of seething soup of worry. Find ways to get them out. Writing them down often helps, as does saying them out loud when you are alone. Just reading or hearing them can help you start to make sense of them.
- Get out there and talk to people. Contact friends and tell them you need to catch up, go to a public event where you have people around you, volunteer to go and walk the dogs at the rescue center or help at a local foodbank, join a class or a group, or start one yourself. There are often plenty of people like yourself who might jump at the chance of a get fit or weight loss support group, or a regular book club to help get through the long winter evenings. So, if you don’t see what you want out there, then start it. In short, being around other people is good for mental health, while isolation is bad. And the old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved still holds true, so don’t keep your worries to yourself.
- If you find your worries and anxiety are starting to make you feel unwell or unable to cope, then go see your GP and consider seeing a counsellor. It isn’t always possible to do it by yourself, and even health professionals and therapists need some extra support now and then.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.