Anxiety and other derivatives of fear are present as the UK is in lockdown to stem the transmission of the Covid-19 virus. People constantly say we are in unprecedented turbulent times. Even those words have triggered my clients to feel more anxious. Anxiety can range from worry or unease to panic and terrified. People experience it differently and reactions can vary depending on the situation. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
The symptoms and effects of anxiety are different for everyone. The effects can be physical, mental, emotional or behavioural or a combination of all of them.
Here are some anxiety symptoms:
- Fast, strong or irregular heartbeat
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, even if feeling tired or exhausted
- Thoughts of dread or overwhelm or not being able to cope
- Inability to concentrate, make decisions or progress things
- Repetitive behaviours to check things are ok, in search of security
- Seeking reassurance from others often
- Procrastination and/or avoidance
- Irritable, tense, sharp tongued
- Dry mouth, excessive sweating, dizzy
The Chemical Impact of Anxiety
Anxiety is not just in our heads. Physical things go on in our bodies when we are threatened and anxious. Adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released (they are hormones and neurotransmitters if you need to know). Cortisol is released in stressful times to help with our short-term survival – it diverts attention from longer-term bodily functions such as the immune system, digest and bone formation. Adrenaline is involved in our sympathetic nervous system, it helps prep our bodies for fight or flight. It increases our heart rate, blood pressure, opens our airways and dilates our pupils. With modest amounts of stress, it helps us be alert and focused. With too much stress, it overwhelms the executive functioning part of our brain causing us to be less sharp mentally. When stress and anxiety are too high and/or for too long our bodies and minds are worn down and impact our wellness.
What is Resilience?
The ability to handle what comes at you in life without being thrown off. Or, as Angela Armstrong, a co-writer in my book writing group, defined it in her book, The Resilience Club: resilience is the ability to take the challenges and changes of life in your stride and say yes to the opportunities that excite you.
The purpose of resilience at its basic level is to be healthy (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) despite what’s going on around you. To enjoy life and be able to contribute despite the circumstances.
Choose Resilience and Hope
The word ‘choose’ is key to resilience. There’s a belief that stress is a choice and if you adopt that belief you will be well on your way to feeling more resilient.
“Stress is a choice: the trigger of the stress might be outside your control; how you perceive the stress and how you respond to it are within your control” Angela Armstrong (author of amazon No 1 best-seller, The Resilience Club)
Notice there are often choices which we don’t initially see. I’ve seen people who have lost their jobs and feel there’s no opportunity end up in a better role and are happier. Choice requires you to focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. You can control many things including your mindset.
Hope is not wishing and dreaming. As defined by Oxford Dictionary it is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. A feeling of trust.” What do you hope for? Start feeling that within you rather than looking for it externally. The key is feeling the feeling of hope and not just wishing a wish. If you want more love in your life, feel love for yourself, give love away readily to create the feeling of love within. If you want more calm, feel calm for yourself, convey calm to others, that creates the feeling of calm and hence hope for it within yourself.
Tips to Manage Anxiety and Build Resilience
Breath – do deep, belly breathing or box breathing. You can google these but essentially, it’s about breathing deep into your diaphragm, so your belly extends out and slowing down your inhale and exhalation. Start with a count of 4 – breathe in for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4, repeat. This activates your parasympathetic system which is responsible when your body is at rest.
Identify your trigger –What is the thing, person or situation that triggers your anxiety? My trigger right now is negative news about the coronavirus. Keeping a journal might help you identify what is triggering you if you’re not sure. Once you know your trigger, start minimizing it if possible. Work longer-term to build up your resistance to the trigger with smaller exposures, breathing and compassion for yourself.
Reframe your anxious thoughts – a technique originating in therapy to have people look at situations from a different perspective, often used to look at things in a new way, often more positive or a better serving way. For example, my attempt to reframe a news item about grocery shelves being empty because people are hoarding. Instead, shelves are empty as people are home cooking so many more meals than normal with the whole family home and no eating out.
Limit your worry time – if anxiety is taking up a lot of your time, designate a specific period in a day and a specific area to worry. Time yourself so when you walk away from that area you can remind yourself to leave it behind.
Who handles anxiety well? – identify people who appear to handle anxiety well, watch them. Observe what they do to cope with stress. If you know them, ask them about their thoughts and attitudes towards stressful circumstances so you can adopt their thinking.
Create – tap into your creativity (or borrow it from someone else) to come up with innovative solutions to the obstacle or stressor. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” For example, Dyson is trying to switch it’s manufacturing from vacuum cleaners to ventilators given the need for them in treating the virus.
Find meaning – resilient people find meaning in turbulent times. Rather than feeling powerless or like the victim, identify the opportunities or learnings from the situation. What’s your purpose in life (best to identify this before calamity strikes) and how does the stressor advance your purpose? If you don’t know your purpose, you can create meaning in things like community and belonging as we’re all in this together.
Self-care – during turbulent times, and anytime actually, take care of your physical, mental and emotional self. Eat well, exercise, sleep well, have connections with friends and family, have a spiritual practice (whatever that means to you), have fun and laugh. Figure out what nurtures your soul and include that regularly in your life.
Check out Angela’s book by downloading the first chapter free here. She writes for leaders and managers who are balancing external uncertainties with the company’s ambition, stakeholder and employee needs and their own wellbeing. She provides 30 simple, powerful habits to help you stay healthy, sane and spirited in a demanding world. There are also more free resources here on her website.
An oldy but a goody is the Harvard Business Review article How Resilience Works by Diane L. Coutu, originally published in 2002.
Click here for the NHS website for more information about anxiety in general.