Anxiety is the new epidemic running parallel to Covid-19, and there is no mask, social distancing or vaccine to combat it. Even with the second lockdown ending this week, people are more stressed and anxious than ever before with no assurances that the world will ever be the same again. 

Anxiety is defined as an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

People with anxiety usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.

Anxiety can feel overwhelming and paralysing and create real difficulties for people and relationships. We all feel anxious at times, but I’ve noticed, that as the pandemic continues, clients are feeling more acutely anxious and recently my focus in sessions has explicitly moved to talk about anxiety; how it shows up with clients and how to learn to manage it. 

How to lower anxiety:

The first stepis to identify that you feel anxious. This can be accessed through the body. I often say to clients that if they can remember how they felt when they were startled or shouted at as children, they can better understand the connection between their visceral body and feelings. Children are connected to their bodies in ways adults are not because as years go by, we learn to disconnect and self-protect ourselves. We learn to withdraw, distract ourselves, jump into our heads rather than know how we really feel.

The body holds the answers:

Firstly, close the eyes and start to notice if there is any tension in the body. Notice where that is; it is usually in the stomach, chest or throat but can be anywhere in the body.  When you have located precisely where, simply observe it. “Observing it” means just bearing witness to that tension, without judgement or the need to overthink it. It is helpful to say to yourself “my chest is tight” or “my stomach is tight”.

You might start to observe that you have gone into your head and are overthinking this (perfectly natural) and maybe even judging yourself in some way. But this is the time to pull back and go back into the body and observe the tension again. 

Give this process of identifying the tension time and space, be patient.

This can feel like a tedious and frustrating process, but it is the internal training ground for us to learn to get out of the head and stay present to what we are focusing on. The gentler and more compassionate we are with ourselves, the easier the process becomes.

Observing the feelings:

When we eventually allow enough space to accept what the body says, telling us that there is tension around, magically, a feeling will emerge. When it does, it is helpful to name it: “I am feeling angry” or “I am feeling jealous”. Naming a feeling allows us to be conscious about what we feel, helps us accept the feeling and ultimately, to see the situation differently – this is because the anxiety has dissipated. We can think more clearly and therefore it gives us a different perspective of what’s going on. 

We have little ability to change things externally, but we do have agency in how we manage our anxiety. Talking about anxiety is key because it allows us to understand what is making us feel anxious and helps to normalise the feeling. My experience has taught me that learning to focus on lowering anxiety rather than changing what is making us anxious is far more effective for us.

It is natural to feel anxiety; in fact, evolution has hardwired us this way; we just don’t want it to overwhelm us on a daily basis.

Shirlee Kay