Taking charge of anxiety and building resilience

At the point of writing this article, during a pandemic, there are many people collectively and individually struggling with the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic.  Despite the global impact of this pandemic it may be useful to notice how each of us manage the impact on us in very different ways.  We all experience our own individual responses based on our own learnt coping skills, beliefs and aspirations.

An approach which may help is one used in Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT).  ACT may help us to reframe how we feel and support us to accept the current situation, while learning new coping skills.  ACT supports us to notice our self-talk and what our belief systems are.  For example, we may notice how we feel about certain experiences and what messages we tell ourselves about these experiences.  By working with a therapist to process these experiences we may notice if we need to make immediate changes in the short term or set longer term goals.  These goals may help to resolve the impact of the experience and while working on acceptance of the current situation we may learn how to reframe our self-talk.  For example, if something happens to us and we feel happy, sad, excited or angry we may want to adapt how we experience similar events and learn a new way of experiencing these events.  This is otherwise known as reframing and based on us learning more about why we allow certain situations to impact on us in a certain way.

·         We may learn that past coping mechanisms may not have served us well and we may work towards building coping skills and a new outlook.

·         We may make the decision to change and then work on what aspects of us we may like to work on.

·         We also may notice what is difficult for us and work towards having an acceptance that change is not always overnight and that some aspects of change may be out of our control and may take some time.  Acceptance does not mean we are happy with our circumstances but it does require us to acknowledge the facts.  How we manage this transition is fully within our control.

So what can you do today to begin taking charge of your anxiety?

All therapy and indeed Acceptance Commitment Therapy supports learning to live with anxiety and helps set goals based on our values, beliefs and aspirations.  Part of acceptance of the present situation is learning what is in our control and what is out of our control.

In the short term there are many techniques we can do to resource ourselves with our own ‘tool kit’ of coping strategies and reduce anxiety:

1.       Reframing our ideas:  When we reframe our beliefs we move from what may be a fixed mind set of seeing things only one way to a more open mind set.  A more open mind set welcomes acceptance and self-exploration.  For example, we may compare ourselves negatively to others or avoid certain situations based on past experiences.  If we adopt a growth mind set we may embrace new experiences, beliefs and be more open to experiencing life differently.

2.       Mindfulness involves the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.  This is carried out in a non-judgmental and gentle approach to ourselves.  It adopts a similar approach to ACT, whereby we allow all thoughts in and rather than trying to escape our thoughts we notice them and allow them to sit with us and to understand them.  There are many online mindfulness tutorials and apps which can support us to practice this technique.  By practicing mindfulness daily, we become more aware of our feelings, which may reduce anxiety and help to build resilience and coping strategies.  Even by beginning to notice our thoughts and feelings we are moving towards a more mindful state of being.

Perhaps begin by noticing if your ‘mind is full’ (ruminating thoughts, making lists, agitated, constantly anxious) rather than mindful (living in the present moment).  If your mindfulness leads to you noticing that your mind is regularly quite full of worries meditation may help to work on relaxation techniques.  Meditation and breathing relaxation techniques may be useful to process feelings and support the body to relax.  There are many useful apps to support the development of these skills for both adults and children. It is never too early to start!

3.       Exercise as self-care.  Exercise creates changes in the parts of the brain that regulate our stress and anxiety. Exercise may also increase serotonin, which may relieve feelings of depression and anxiety.  By building the routine of exercise into our daily habits we are resourcing ourselves and creating the foundation for healthy living.  Everyone’s approach to exercise is different, some may find the quiet of yoga helpful while others may find group sports or individual exercise as positive self-care strategies. What matters is that you find what works for you.

4.       Be kind to yourself.  If you notice that you may be putting pressure on yourself try and soften the words of your inner critic.  One way of noticing your negative self-talk may be by looking at the expectations you set.  For example, the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘buts’ that we may tell ourselves may not be helpful.  ‘I should be able to do this’…’I should exercise more’… ‘but I used to be okay with this and now I am not’.  If you notice this as something you do, try softening your approach to your self-talk such as, ’I wish I exercised more but for now I am trying my best’.

You are in control of your anxiety.   Developing some of these techniques may support you with acceptance and help you to develop coping strategies for the road ahead.

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