An increasing number of people are experiencing anxiety today, with numbers higher than ever before. There are many reasons suggested for this including the fast pace in which we live our lives today, our increased reliance on processed and ‘fast’ food and our increased use of devices and social media. Even our reduced time spent as a family unit is blamed for increased anxiety levels amongst children.
While anxiety can be a diagnosed condition, it is also a feeling that adults and children can experience temporarily multiple times throughout their life. More than half of all adolescents will experience an anxiety disorder, while the number of teenagers being admitted to hospitals for suicide has almost doubled in the last decade. Whichever form of anxiety is being experienced there are many ways to help reduce and prevent those feelings from taking over. These tools are simple skills and strategies that we should all incorporate into our lives to make them more enjoyable.
Writing our thoughts down is a time-honoured tradition that is often associated with young girls keeping a hidden diary where they write their innermost thoughts. It is, however, a process that has more recently been associated with improving mental health. The very act of writing down your thoughts can make them seem less stressful. You can choose to write down all your thoughts and then try to analyse them in long hand, or you can simply get some quick thoughts out of your head in dot points. It doesn’t matter which you choose because this process is only for your benefit. This strategy is also perfect for those people who find their mind races when they try to fall asleep. Simply keep a notebook and a pen beside your bed and write down those thoughts keeping you awake. I also get my clients to finish their journal entry with the words “now that I have those thoughts out of my head, I can go to sleep”. You don’t need to do anything with these notes, it simply helps you to remove the thoughts from your head.
Sleep is vitally important for good mental health. As mums we become acutely aware of this during those early months with a new baby when we are sleep deprived and not feeling much like ourselves. We are easily stressed, triggered and depressed when we’re lacking in sleep. Sleep is the opportunity for the body to rest and repair any part that needs it, hence why we wake up feeling energised the next morning. Let’s start by fixing the quantity of your sleep. Work backwards from the time you wake up, counting back the ideal number of hours of sleep you need each night. That is now the time when you need to be asleep. Count back an extra half hour (or hour) and that is now the time you need to stop doing whatever you do in the evenings (work, TV etc) and start getting ready for bed. Put your phone on charge outside your bedroom, turn off all the overhead lights in the house and prepare for bed. Have a selection of reading material beside your bed (newspaper, magazines, comic books, novels etc) and give yourself half an hour of reading time. Turn the light off and then use a technique (eg. meditation) to focus on something so that you can calmly drift off to sleep.
Quality of sleep can be negatively effected by things such as alcohol, sugary foods, medication and processed foods with nasty additives and preservatives. Minimising these things can help to improve the quality of sleep you get each night and therefore improve how you feel the next morning.
The brain is a muscle just like your other body muscles, it should not be contracted (in use) ALL the time. It needs to have time to rest (and no, I don’t mean sleeping). It will not function optimally if it is made to be switched ON all the time. So how do you give it some breaks when you have so much to do everyday? You simply take small opportunities when they present themselves. When you’re stopped at the traffic lights, identify what you can see and hear for a minute or two. Can you see the wind in the trees or hear a bird? When the kids finally go to sleep, spend 5 mins doing a meditation to calm your mind before you get back to that list of things to do. When you’re in a queue at the supermarket take a moment to picture yourself in your ‘happy place’ – maybe walking along an empty beach – and feel your shoulders relax and your mind calm. We have so many opportunities to do this everyday, we just have to use them to help ourselves.
4. Social Media
Our consumption of news and social media have to be reduced if we want to decrease our anxiety levels. There are a few reasons for this. The first one is the negativity we can find on both of these things. There is a saying that says “you are where your attention is” and if our attention stays and focusses on negative issues for long periods of time we are left feeling deflated, depressed and in an overall down about the world around us. Social media platforms can also set us up to feel inferior and inadequate if we end up comparing ourselves to other people’s highlight reel. As adults we are better at not doing this, but our younger children and teenagers quite easily believe that they need to strive to be just like others they see on social media with the end result lowering their self esteem and feelings of self worth. Instead, think of better ways to spend your time – reading a book, playing a game with the family, going for a walk etc. Remember, this doesn’t mean giving up these things entirely, just being more intentional with your time and your attention.
Our relationships with each other are one of the most important differences that make us human. It is an area in life where we can constantly grow and evolve. There is no age limit to making new friends and connections or learning something new from someone else. It’s vitally important that children have a variety of connections in their lives from parents, to grandparents, to aunties and uncles, sports coaches, music teachers and of course, their friends. In regards to improving our mental health, we all need someone to turn to when we aren’t feeling as good as we’d like to be or we need some support. This process of leaning on others needs to be normalised and valued in society today. We need to model it for our children and teach them how to do it. Firstly, they can do it with us when they’re young. When they’re upset about something (no matter how trivial it seems to us) we need to show them how we listen, acknowledge their emotions and reflect on their experience. This will teach them how to do that for their friends.
We are in control of our thoughts! This is a new concept to some people who are constantly upset and discouraged by the thoughts that they have. We need to learn to speak to ourselves in the same way we speak to others. We wouldn’t put other people down and make them feel unworthy, yet we do this to ourselves on a regular basis. We have to speak to ourselves better. An easy way to start this is to write down a list of things we would like others to say about us eg. you are a good friend, you are funny, you are strong etc. Turn them into “I am..” statements and write them out on some paper to either keep for the times when you are feeling down or put it up on your bathroom mirror to read every day. Catch yourself when you’re putting yourself down and turn that talk around and build yourself back up instead.
I’ve worked with many families through anxiety issues and as always, prevention is better than a cure, so get started with me today by booking in for a personal consultation or if you’re not sure how to best work with me or how I can help you, book a free 15min chat so I can get to know you and identify how I can help you and your family.