Coping with anxiety - Activfirst
Anxiety is a common issue and can affect anyone at any stage of life. Whilst anxiety is deeply personal to each individual, I thought that by writing my own experiences and ways of coping down in this blog, it may be useful for anyone who has struggled, or is currently struggling, as well as being a cathartic release for me!
Looking back, I think my own issues with anxiety first started when my mother sadly passed away, very unexpectedly, three years ago. My girlfriend, now wife, was pregnant with our second child and we had moved to a new house only a few months previously. All of this, together with working full time, I was struggling to cope, and it took some time before I was able to admit this to myself.
I have found that when I am going through a period of anxiety, I will put enormous pressure on myself to keep going and often take on more tasks/become busier, which of course only adds to my anxiety, so it can be a very vicious and difficult cycle to get out of. The anxiety will start to seep into all aspects of my life, and I have ended up worrying about anything from my job, my friendships and even so far as worrying about playing football, which should be an enjoyable hobby!
What I have tried to do, and I say try, because it is much easier said than done, is to change my mindset. Previously I thought the best thing to do was to hide when I was feeling anxious and pretend that I was fine and that nothing was wrong. All this did however was simply let the anxiety build up and meant that even the slightest thing would seem much worse than it actually was. It is a classic case of papering over the cracks. It is important not to shy away from the feelings of anxiety, but instead work out what some of your triggers may be and how best you can manage the anxiety when it appears. Some of the coping strategies which have helped me have been:-
- Prioritising – making sure that I don’t take on too much at once and try to get a good balance of work and personal/family life creates clear boundaries.
- Structure – having a structure helps me to switch off. For example, scheduling a run or a gym session (or other hobbies) on a particular day or days each week gives me a focus and something to look forward to. Equally, I have learnt that if for any reason the schedule cannot be followed, this isn’t the end of the world.
- Relax – having two small children there isn’t a great deal of time to relax in our house but spending time with the children and my wife together as a family, whether it be watching a film or going for a walk helps.
- Switch off – we are so accessible in today’s society and I think many of us struggle to switch off. My best advice is to turn your work computer off at the end of the day and try not to look at work messages/emails until you are back in the office. Allowing yourself to separate from your work and personal life means one doesn’t stray into the other.
- Diet – a good, balanced diet can work wonders. I have found that preparing food in advance means that I eat better and at the correct times. For example, preparing my breakfast and lunch the day before means that no matter how busy my working day is the following day, I have two proper meals already prepared and ready to take with me if I need to eat on the go. Once the children are in bed, I also enjoy cooking the evening meal for myself and my wife as this creates an opportunity to switch off from a busy day. Limiting my intake of caffeine is also key as I have found this does not help when I am going through a period of anxiety.
- Exercise – a good long run or gym session can really help to clear a busy mind. I can often leave the house prior to exercising feeling incredibly anxious, but afterwards I feel refreshed and revitalised.
- Hobbies – for me this is playing football for a local team on a Saturday, but it can be anything. I try to not put any pressure on myself now when I play as this has been an issue for me previously. Nowadays, I enjoy the time away from the house and just appreciate being able to spend time doing something that I love. For me, the change of scenery just helps to remind me that even when I am going through an anxious period, I can still take time to enjoy a hobby and this generally helps lift my mood.
- Friends – during periods of anxiety I have sometimes retreated from friendships, but I have found that it is really important to still put yourself out there and maintain friendships. It has surprised me that so many of my friends have gone through similar experiences and also had periods of anxiety. Men in particular I think have a hard time expressing their feelings but having spoken to some of my close friends and shared our experiences, it has both strengthened the friendships and made me realise that I am not alone.
- Talking – whether this be your partner/spouse, friends, or even someone completely independent. It is important to be honest when you are going through a tough time. Sometime just telling my wife I am not having a good day helps to relieve some anxiety. It is generally the case that anxiety is worsened simply because the person bottles up their feelings and talking about how you feel can alleviate some of this.
In terms of coping with anxiety at work, I simply follow some of the coping strategies above. Having a clear schedule means that I don’t cram too much into my work diary and am then able to have quality time with the people I visit, which is vital to working within the assessment and training field.
As travel is a massive part of my job, I allow time to travel and add time on in case of traffic or delays. I found that feeling rushed to get from location to location was another trigger for my anxiety. I now try to use travel time as a relaxation tool and enjoy listening to different podcasts in between work locations. Having the opportunity to switch off, even if just for 15 minutes or so throughout the day really helps to keep my mind fresh and clear.
Overall, I try not to worry about things that are beyond my control, such as the current circumstances we have all found ourselves in right now! Anxiety is an ongoing battle that many of us have, but sharing conversations about our experiences, triggers and coping strategies continues to raise awareness of this common issue.
Talk about it
Finally, if you are feeling anxious, about anything at all, I would urge you to talk to someone. A starting point would be a partner, or close friend or a member of your family. If you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know then possibly consider reaching out to an independent organisation such as:
- Mind – www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans – www.samaritans.org.uk , 116 123
- Let’s Talk – letstalkhull.co.uk, 01482 247111 (this is a local organisation for those registered with Hull GPs Hull area, but every local authority should have something similar)
- Your local GP – an initial chat with your GP may just help in itself to make you feel better and you will also be able to discuss services available in your area and discuss a possible referral to other mental health services.