To say the year 2020 has been unprecedented is an understatement. For those with anxiety, it can be particularly challenging. In fact, I’ve found that being in lockdown was less anxiety inducing than the lead up to the lock down and now our emergence from it. Despite the unpredictability, we humans are adaptable even though we may not think we are. I’ve compiled a few ways on how I managed anxiety during this post-lockdown period which you might find helpful.
Understand what you can and can’t control
As a self-confessed planner who enjoys predictability, I had to accept some realities. I couldn’t control losing my job due to COVID-19 or the fact that I had an autoimmune condition. I also couldn’t control the reality that I was a WOC (woman of colour) at a time where there were accounts of racially motivated abuse directed at people of Asian descent. However, I could control what made me feel safe, secure and stable during this period. This included staying at home even when restrictions have loosened, researching how other people with autoimmune conditions have managed their condition during this period, consulting with my medical professionals on advice what to do, establishing clear boundaries and keeping my mind occupied with activities that bring me joy.
Reduce media consumption
Before lockdown I realised that I was monitoring the media several times a day as I was interested in keeping up with all the COVID-19 updates. However, there is such a thing as information overload. Although knowledge is powerful, the more you know, the more you worry as my husband puts it, as I have a habit of ruminating and overthinking. To balance this, I made sure that I only checked the news once a day- generally in the morning just before I open my emails, and only for maximum 15 minutes. I also try and stay clear of reading comments from major news sources – as they say, “Not reading the comments is self-care”, yes- there is a Facebook group with that title!
Establish a routine
This third point is an extension of the first point and not only is it something you can control, it gives you a sense of purpose. I find establishing a routine helps my mind from wandering as I am focused on the task at hand. It helps the day go by quicker too. Sometimes not everything is ticked off in my routine but if I get the major things done eg: walk the dog, have breakfast, journal, exercise, I consider that a generally successful day. It is predictable and within my control.
Keep up with exercise
There are numerous benefits of exercise on mental health as mentioned here, and I find it a great way to keep my mind from wandering. It also conveniently weaves into my daily routine, is something I can control (I can go as easy or as hard as I want- I simply keep moving) and it forces me to be in the present (see the next point)..triple points! Sometimes my motivation can wane which is why I make sure I only do about 30 minutes a day and take breaks if I need to between exercise.
Being in the present
This is my biggest barrier in anxiety as my mind tends to revert back to past situations or worries about the future. Meditation quietens my mind and forces you to be in the present. We have a short guided meditation here if you want to try it out. I’ve also found having an audiobook or music on in the background helpful if you find meditation not for you.
Cultivating being in the present is something which isn’t easy to do but with practice you’ll get better at it. A lot of the time it is experimenting with different things. During lock down I went through a decluttering phase as I wanted to continue my journey with minimalism. By removing items that I no longer used or didn’t bring me joy (as Marie Kondo puts it) it took a weight off my shoulders. It also made me think intentionally about what I owned and what served me for my life in the present.
I’ve been journaling for over a year now and found that there are two types of journaling that has helped manage my anxiety.
First is a gratitude journal where I write down three things I am grateful for. I always write down something which makes my life easier eg: warm socks, a hot shower, a cup of tea.
The second is what is known as “Morning Pages”. This term was coined by the author Julia Cameron who wrote “The Artists Way”. Basically, the idea of the Morning Pages is a brain dump or stream of consciousness in the morning. You write down whatever is on your mind in the morning. Just make sure to fill in three pages of it. I tend to do this straight after feeding my dog and with a cup of tea in my hand. I don’t need to worry about grammar, spelling, flow or being judged. It is simply all emotions released on a page so that it isn’t occupying room in my head during the day.