As well as coronavirus there is another hidden epidemic in our society – an epidemic of anxiety.
Recent events have only heightened the levels of stress and anxiety suffered by those of us who may have been struggling anyway.
What anxiety feels like
Anxiety makes us fearful and weakens our resilience. It makes us doubt ourselves so we hold back from making the most of our opportunities. When we do make that leap forward we agonise over our capabilities, which then robs us of the joy of our achievements. No matter how successful we are, we never feel confident as anxiety causes self-doubt and worry to creep back in.
You are not alone
What makes it so much worse is that we feel that we shouldn’t feel this way so we hide it. We think we are alone. What we don’t realize is that many other people are hiding their anxiety too. I have been a coach to a number of very successful people – all of whom in the safety of these deep conversations revealed their anxiety and self-doubt to me. From these experiences I believe that anxiety is far more widespread than statistics would have us believe. We are most definitely not alone.
The roots of anxiety
Anxiety stems from an underlying belief that the world is not safe and we are not good enough. This might be subconscious and may even have started in childhood. It might be deeply buried and yet it influences every thought and interaction with the world. Once those beliefs are embedded anxiety becomes a reasonable response to protect you from threat or harm. It peppers your daily life with worries about threat, failure and rejection in an attempt to keep you scared and safe.
How to be free
The good news is that you can train your mind to free itself from its anxious mental habits. It’s going to take practice and you will need to pay attention to what your mind is playing at, but it can be done and it will be worth it.
Find a moment of stillness every day. Firstly this gives you a moment of peace of mind, which is a blessing in itself. More importantly it helps you to develop a mental space from which you can start to observe your mind at work. Any mindfulness or meditation practice will do. It could be a simple focus on the breath or simply sitting quietly for 5 minutes without getting caught up in thinking. In this practice try to set an intention of kind and open awareness so that you accept and welcome any thoughts or feelings that may arise. The vital part of this is making it a daily practice.
Now you can start to be curious about your inner experience. Start to pay closer attention to what you are thinking and how you are feeling. What are anxious feelings like? Can you tell when these feelings first arise? Notice which thoughts cause you to feel anxious and which thoughts make you feel ok. You can begin to move your attention away from the anxiety-provoking thoughts and towards more helpful and supportive ways of thinking. Think of your attention like the beam of a torch and direct it to where you want it to be. Switching the torch beam of your attention, over and over again, will gradually reprogram your neural pathways and switch your mental habits from anxious thoughts to realistic and supportive thoughts.
Maintaining a kindly attitude to your inner exploration is very important, no matter what comes up or how long it takes. This is hard work. You are undoing what is probably the habit of a lifetime and it may take a lot of time. Don’t rush. It can be helpful to keep a journal of how you are feeling. This can serve to remind you in the future of how far you have come as you continue with this work. It can also be helpful to have the support of a trusted friend, coach or counsellor.
As you start to create space in your mind that was previously crowded with anxious thoughts, start deliberately filling your thoughts, your life and your time with things that make you happy. Rekindle old friendships, hobbies and almost forgotten dreams. Build in time for activities that are fun. Enjoy sensory pleasures. Eat good food, have baths and massages, listen to music and dance. Life is to be enjoyed not endured. As you build more enjoyment into your life, it starts to feel more abundant and you start to feel more at home in the world.
With commitment you can train your mind and gain control of your anxiety. You can feel good about yourself and take on new challenges with confidence. Then you can help others to share, understand and heal their hidden anxiety.
About the author
Jane Hanford is a psychologist, coach and author. Her book Happy Anyway is aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults who struggle with anxiety, and it will help people of any age who suffers from its effects. Find Happy Anyway on Amazon priced £8.99 for the paperback or £4.99 for the Kindle version.
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