Our new columnist and Loose Women presenter gives us her top tips on how to overcome anxiety, stress and worry
Feelings of anxiety can happen to us at any time in our life and for a variety of reasons; not just related to stressful situations. While it is absolutely understandable that we will all be feeling anxious, stressed and worried as the world copes with the reality of the global pandemic we are all in, some will be feeling these emotions more than others. For some women, hormones have a huge part to play; anyone who is currently peri-menopausal will be feeling particularly vulnerable right now if they are struggling with their levels. For others, who are particularly sensitive to change, coping with extremely challenging times is difficult. There are however steps that you can take to reduce anxiety and stress and take back some control over a brain that may be whirring with catastrophic trains of thought.
Meditation is incredibly powerful when it comes to reducing anxiety levels and I would recommend it to everyone. If you have never done it before and don’t really know where to begin, there are many meditation apps available, so have a look around on the App store – some are free, others are paid for by subscription and offer courses, which can be a good idea if this is something you would like to dive into more deeply. Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace are all good. If you want to try something on your own, here is a simple technique I use to help centre my mind when it is becoming overwhelmed. From where I’m sitting, I list five things I can see. I say them in my head: “I can see… my window, the trees outside, my coffee cup, my plant, my computer.” Then I list five things I can hear; birds tweeting, a dog barking, cars driving past, my washing machine, kids playing. Then five things I can feel; the sun through the window on my arm, my socks on my feet, my computer on my lap, my fingers hitting the keys, my glasses on my nose. It doesn’t have to be anything difficult, but the act of stopping, listening, looking and feeling gives your overworked and wrung-out brain something to do. You’ll feel so much better for doing this, and you can try it anywhere.
Moving around is another way to distract your brain, so open the windows, change the air in the room and jump around – there are countless fitness clips on YouTube at whatever level you can handle. I’ve been trying dance aerobics from the privacy of my living room – thank goodness, because I’m so awful at it that I’d never go back if I had to do it in a class where anyone could see me! But behind closed doors, I’ve been able to clumsily lurch into bad box-steps and gruesome grapevines, exercising my muscles and releasing anxiety-busting serotonin at the same time – who doesn’t love a feel-good multi-task?
Be mindful of what you are putting into your body, as some food and drink do not combine well with a jittery mind and body. Cut down on your caffeine, try to limit yourself to a couple of cups a day before mid-afternoon to give your body and brain time to process and get rid of it before bedtime. While wine is a lovely release at the end of the day, if you are feeling low it can make things worse, even though it seems like that numbness is making you feel better. So try and have a few nights off a week to help your mind and body clear. Drinking often leads to nibbling, and late-night snacking means that your system is having to process and digest food rather than rest and restore, which is why you can wake up feeling groggy – it’s not just from the alcohol, which on its own can disrupt the quality of your sleep. None of us are at our best on too little sleep, so try and keep to a routine of bedtime and getting-up time so that the body knows what’s happening – this in itself will help you feel more relaxed and in control, which in turn will help anxiety levels.