Antidotes to Anxiety

I thought I might share a few simple tools to help us combat the anxiety we’re experiencing, perhaps daily, and often at night. I suggest some things to do, then ways to help us think differently to combat those worrying thoughts. Being a Christian, I tend to integrate these techniques with my faith perspective, so I’ll offer those links which I hope might be helpful to some.

Anxiety is always triggered by uncertainty, and we are all living in very uncertain times. Those of us who don’t usually experience anxiety much are getting a taste of what it’s like for those who battle with it regularly.

Things to do:

Every morning, when the daily reality of this lockdown kicks in, write a gratitude list. Try to list at least 10 things that you can genuinely be thankful about. Speak them out loud to yourself, dwelling on each one. Gratitude is at the heart of the Christian faith: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ (1Thessalonians 5:18) Thanksgiving helps change our mood.

As is widely known, exercise helps our mental wellbeing, so integrate that into your daily schedule at whatever level you can manage; in your chair, round your house or beyond.

When anxious, tension locates in our bodies. Try this exercise:

Actively tense all the muscles in your feet, holding for five seconds, then slowly relax the muscles over five seconds and pause to enjoy the feeling. Do the same with your calf muscles, clenching them tight, then releasing them in the same rhythm, slowly work all the muscle groups up to your shoulders and head, then finally tighten all the muscles in your face and gently release them.  This takes time and concentration, and often helps when we can’t sleep!

Follow this with a simple breathing exercise: breathe in slowly through your nose, imagining the breath going right down to your waist, expanding your lower back, shoulders down, over 4 seconds. Breathe out through your mouth slowly for four seconds. Repeat a number of times. One of the Hebrew names for the Holy Spirit is ‘ruach’ which means breath. I like to turn this exercise into a simple prayer: ‘Breathe in me…(inhale), breath of God…(exhale)

Things to think

When we’re anxious we’re often thinking bad things are going to happen, and sometimes we dwell on the worst-case scenario. This is called catastrophising; living in the catastrophe that hasn’t actually happened. This happens a lot for us at the moment. Most of our worst fears are never realised.

Jesus said something very helpful in his Sermon on the Mount, that tomorrow has enough worries of its own, so just concentrate on today’s challenges. He knew he was going to face the cross, so he lived that wise advice, seeking God’s will for the day ahead.

Another technique is imagining a real place you know which is calming, lovely, or an experience which is soothing like walking along a beach you know, a place in your garden with a favourite mug of tea. Practice imagining it so you can ‘call it to mind’ when you feel frightened.

And finally:

‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.’ (Philippians 3;6)

Rachel Firth