I’ve been feeling so anxious I’ve been chewing my tongue in my sleep. Or at least, I think I am. How else can I account for a mouth full of ulcers and a tongue so swollen I can no longer talk? I’m having tests done to check it isn’t anything more sinister. In the meantime, I’ve been advised to keep my stress, work and anxiety levels in check.
The prospect of a move back to Quito is making me more nervous than I realised. We aren’t even moving to Quito anytime soon, and I don’t even have to if I don’t want to. I’m feeling anxious for no reason.
But then I spoke to a dear friend who persuaded me that my anxiety is normal, justifiable and most importantly, treatable. Kelly Burley is a mental wellbeing coach. Here she shares her thoughts on anxiety and how to deal with it…
Anxiety can take a number of forms. When we are feeling anxious, this can include negative thoughts about the situation, such as worrying that something bad is going to happen. There may be associated bodily sensations such as increased heartbeat, rapid breathing and butterflies in the stomach resulting from increased levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
These are the body’s way of preparing for fight or flight. Unfortunately, the body does not know the difference between physical danger (such as stepping out of the way of oncoming traffic) or being psychologically vulnerable (such as adjusting to a new culture or trying to meet unrealistic expectations) and therefore reacts in the same way.
Other symptoms range across the fight, flight or freeze spectrum. Symptoms could include displaying angry or irritable behaviour with partners, friends, or co-workers (fight), trying to avoid certain situations, such as unwillingness to socialise and meeting new people (flight) or feeling indecisive or freezing in certain situations (freeze).
Here are my tips for dealing with anxiety…
How to deal with anxiety – 10 tips:
Keep a journal
Journaling is a good way to get your feelings out of you head and onto the page. Studies have shown that for some journaling can be an effective way of reducing the symptoms of anxiety.
Journaling also provides space for self-reflection. It’s a great way to describe how you are feeling in the moment. And it allows you to delve into the reasons why that might be and any steps that you can take to change things.
Your journal is a safe space to be as petty, angry, emotional or irrational as you like, without judgement and is a good way to explore your feelings, try out new behaviours and get to know the different parts of yourself in a risk-free environment.
Meditating is the process of bringing your awareness to the present moment. This can be done by concentrating on the breath or an external object such as a candle flame, or reciting a mantra.
It is a way of slowing down and simply noticing your thoughts without judgement. Meditation relaxes the body and is a way of taking yourself out of the fight/flight mode and engaging in a calm, relaxed state.
A simple meditation practice could involve the following:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your back supported and your feet touching the floor.
- Close your eyes or if more comfortable gently gaze at a spot on the floor.
- Bring your awareness to your breath, without altering or changing anything.
- Notice how your body feels as you inhale and then exhale.
- If you find your attention wandering onto other things like anxious thoughts, once you notice acknowledge the thought, without judgement and then gently bring your focus back to the breath.
- Continue this process for 5-10 minutes and then gently bring your awareness back to your surroundings and open your eyes.
- Notice how you feel following the meditation, simply observing anything you think and feel without judgement.
3. If possible, go outdoors
Taking a short walk in nature, whether in your garden or a local park or forest can improve your wellbeing. Physical activity can help improve self-esteem, while a change of surroundings can break any negative thought cycles and start to ignite your natural curiosity. Natural surroundings can improve your mood and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety, helping you to feel more grounded.
When you are walking take a moment to really notice what is going on around you. Can you hear birdsong or the wind in the trees? Can you smell any flowers? Gradually becoming mindful of our environment can help keep us in the present moment and reduce the intensity and frequency of anxious thoughts and feelings.
If you are living in a city centre without much access to nature, going for a walk in your local area can also be a good way of exploring and provide a number of the same benefits in terms of physical activity and an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
4. Log your gratitudes
Listing some of the things you are grateful for on a regular basis is a good way of improving overall mood and helping to feel more positive about your situation.
A good daily practice is listing three things that you feel grateful for in your life. These could include your health, your job or even the weather or getting a seat on the train into work.
Additionally, if there is a particular issue that you are struggling with you could try the practice of finding something to appreciate about your situation, in order to provide you with a different perspective on the problem. For example, if you have just moved to a new country where you don’t know anyone, you could appreciate the opportunity to explore a new place and experience a new culture.
The difference between gratitude and appreciation is that with appreciation you don’t have to like the situation you are in but you can acknowledge the value in the experience, by looking at ways in which you can learn from it. Gratitude is about feeling thankful for people, things and situations in your life.
Physical activity is what has been described as a power habit. It is of the key things that you can do in life which will make an exponential difference. This is because exercise releases good endorphins which elevate your mood. Over time it improves your physical fitness, improving breathing and heart rate. You are also more likely to want to eat a more balanced nutritious diet following exercise, which again improves your overall wellbeing.
The important thing about exercise is picking something that you enjoy doing. This is personal to you, so whilst some people rave about the benefits of yoga, if it doesn’t make you feel good doing it then don’t sign up for a yoga class but explore what type of exercise you do enjoy, whether it is swimming, running, cycling or simply going for a walk. Sometimes it is all about your frame of mind. If you approach it in the right way, even the housework could be a good way of getting in some regular exercise!
6. Eat a balanced diet
Maintaining a healthy diet is a good way to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs to function properly. Certain foods have also been proven to improve overall mood such as berries (e.g. blueberries and strawberries) which are full of antioxidants which reduce inflammation in the body, yogurt which contains probiotics to boost gut health and wholegrains which contain tryptophan which helps to create serotonin (the happy hormone).
Getting into a regular routine with food is also helpful, including not skipping meals and trying to eat at regular times of the day. It is also important to drink lots of water to ensure you maintain hydrated by drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day. Dehydration can reduce your ability to concentrate and puts additional pressures on your kidneys.
7. Get plenty of sleep
Simple but one of the most effective ways to improve your mood. Sleep is an important process for recharging the brain and integrating memories.
Most people do not get enough sleep and the effects on our mental health is significant. A lack of sleep can result in negative moods, particularly raised levels of anxiety and irritability, physical fatigue, and poor cognitive functioning.
Getting into a good sleep routine is a particularly good way to help reset your body’s natural rhythm. This includes going to bed at a regular time each night, leaving smart phones and other screens outside the bedroom as blue light emitted from these devices can interrupt our sleep cycles and keep us awake. Reading or meditating before bed can also be a good way to help your body relax and unwind.
8. Practise a hobby
Take the opportunity of being in a new place to explore new hobbies or continue existing ones, whether that is learning the local language, cooking local cuisine or dancing. This keeps your mind active and focussed on something other than the anxiety of your situation. Additional benefits include the opportunity to meet new people and develop a new social network.
9. Connect with family and friends
Even though you are in a different country, take time to connect with you family and friendship networks whether by traditional phone or videophone. This is your support network and the people who know you the best.
As human beings, positive relationships have a healing effect and can help us to feel seen and heard, which inevitably improves our mood.
10. Set manageable, daily goals
Set yourself a small manageable goal for each day. For example this could be walking around your new neighbourhood for 15 minutes to get your bearings or going out to the local shops. Set it small enough to be manageable but big enough to be a break from your usual routine to add some variety to your life.
Remember to celebrate the goals you achieve no matter how small, as this helps to make you feel better and makes it more likely that you will follow through on a consistent basis.
Whatever tips you decide to follow, start small and try to make it a habit. That doesn’t mean that you have to do it every day, but studies show that a manageable hobby linked to an existing routine is something you are more likely to maintain. So for example, while enjoying your daily cup of morning coffee, why not make a habit to write in your journal at this time?
And a final word…
Anxiety becomes problematic when it ceases to be manageable. When anxiety becomes overwhelming and all consuming, affecting your ability to go about your everyday life then I would recommend speaking to your doctor.
I would advise consulting with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the below:
- an excessive fear and anxiety that is out of proportion to the specific situation
- feelings of anxiety or panic attacks that arise without warning
- fears which are highly unlikely to ever happen
- a long-lasting or uncontrollable sense of anxiety
- avoiding situations, people or places in an effort to control your anxiety
To book a sample session with Kelly, or to learn more about her life coaching services, visit kellyburley.com
The Expater and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on The Expater is provided for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.