This year Mental Health Awareness Week is all about anxiety. 1 in 10 people in the UK live with an anxiety disorder¹. That’s about 8 million people who live with anxiety on a daily basis. Today, Rationale strategist Naomi is talking about her experience with anxiety and how she manages it at work and at home.
From climate change to the cost of living crisis, it feels like there are more reasons than ever to be anxious. In a recent survey around stress, anxiety and hopelessness relating to personal finance, the Mental Health Foundation found that a quarter of adults in the UK feel so anxious it stops them from doing the things they want to do some or all of the time.
I’ve always been an anxious person, but my anxiety really took on a life of its own a couple of years ago and hasn’t gone away. Long-term anxiety can have a huge impact on how we see ourselves and interact with the world².
My anxiety has influenced how I socialise, how I see myself, and my relationships with others. It has also changed my eating and sleeping habits, and a particularly bad anxiety day often means migraines and nausea.
I’ve been working with a therapist since I moved back to the UK in 2019, and while my mental health generally feels manageable, the anxiety I was experiencing pushed me to seek additional support to manage my feelings and the intrusive thoughts that came with them.
Managing my anxiety
With built in breathing practices and positive mindset cultivation techniques, meditation and yoga help me to manage my stress and cope with anxious feelings that would’ve previously left me drained.
I started practising yoga in 2016 as a way to move my body, but it quickly became my go-to stress and anxiety relief. I found meditation not long after and quickly began to see the benefits of both practices in my personal and professional life. I became kinder, more patient, grounded and confident, and I could see the people around me felt more at ease in my company.
I still use mindfulness as a tool to cope with anxiety daily and I meditate before work to help me feel calmer and more prepared to face the day and whatever it holds.
Navigating anxiety at work
Asking for help is something I struggle with. I have high expectations of myself and often feel like if I don’t get something right the first time then I’m not good at what I do. Before joining Rationale, I’ve also been working alone for a long time – normal for a freelancer – but it has made me feel like I need to be able to solve problems by myself.
Talking about your feelings at work can be difficult, but sharing when you’re overwhelmed, confused, panicked or frustrated is just as valuable as being positive. When someone shares their feelings, it gives them less power and you gain more opportunities to receive the help you need.
I’m lucky I have the support I need now. The Rationale team is here to listen and comes together to find solutions to problems or offer support when someone needs help. Even if I don’t ask as often as I should, I have a lot of reassurance knowing that help is available when I do ask.
Life beyond anxiety
I received a lot of support from my therapist in the last few years to reduce my anxiety but I had to ask for additional help from my GP to find the right medication for me. That support has enabled me to develop ways to minimise the impact of my anxiety and cope on difficult days.
Here’s a few things you can try if you feel like you’re struggling with anxiety:
1. Stop and take a breath (or two)
When my anxiety is overwhelming, I consciously remind myself to stop and take at least one deep breath. I like belly breathing – taking a deep breath that fills your lungs and belly – as it’s a great way to ground yourself when you’re feeling anxious. Belly breathing can help slow down your mind and soothe your panic response.
2. Use a mindfulness app to meditate
Before I start work, I spend 5 minutes meditating using apps like Headspace and Calm. Meditating can help to reduce stress, calm racing thoughts and improve your focus too. Meditation has helped me to ease my anxiety and stay grounded and present during stressful periods.
3. Be kind to yourself
The way we talk to and about ourselves matters. When I’m anxious, I tend to be more critical of myself which can spiral into intrusive thought patterns. Take a moment to show yourself the same kindness you’d give to others – think about a positive moment from your day, read an email from a happy client or remember a compliment someone gave you recently. You’ll be surprised how quickly being nice to yourself can change your perspective.
Acknowledging your feelings, trying yoga or meditation, or talking with someone you trust are great first steps to learning to manage anxiety, but it can take time to work out how best to deal with those feelings. But it’s important to know anxiety isn’t supposed to last forever and people can recover from anxiety disorders with help and support.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, you can contact Anxiety UK and Samaritans to talk. You can also find resources on how to manage anxiety from Mind and the Mental Health Foundation, or reach out to your GP or a mental health professional for further information and support.
¹Mental Health UK. “What is anxiety disorder?”. https://mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/conditions/anxiety-disorders/what-is-anxiety/. Accessed 10 May 2023.
² Mental Health Foundation. “Stress, anxiety and hopelessness over personal finances widespread across UK – new mental health survey.” 17 November 2022, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/about-us/news/stress-anxiety-and-hopelessness-over-personal-finances-widespread-across-uk-new-mental-health-survey. Accessed 10 May 2023.