If you suffer from anxiety, sooner or later you wonder if you are actually losing it.
You feel separate from the rest of the world, as if you are living in your own bubble with no emergency exit. You think you should somehow be able to slow it down, manage it, control it – and yet you don’t seem to be able to.
It’s not a good place to be. But you are not alone.
According to MIND (1) and the National Institute of Mental Health (2), one out of every four people has mental health problems in England each year, and nearly one in three adults in the USA suffers from anxiety at some point in their life.
That’s a LOT of people. You really are not alone.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help yourself, so read on for some ideas.
Part of what makes life today difficult is that so much of it is focused on what happens in our minds, our thoughts and our emotions. And that can really feed our anxiety.
One of the ways of calming this down is to focus on the physical world to remind ourselves that we are part of this, grounded in life.
Here are three ways to start doing that:
1. Inside the Outside
Almost all of us spend much more time inside than outside – and that was before all the restrictions that have made 2020 such a phenomenally different year. But most of us can actually get outside. If you can, go to your local park or green area, or find a tree and stand underneath it. If you can’t get outside, take a plant and go and be by an open window.
Choose something alive and green, such as a leaf or a blade of grass – and look at it. Look really closely. Turn it over and look at the back of it. Trace the veins from the centre to the larger side veins and then to those that lead off from that. Look at how the leaves grow on a tree or a plant, spacing themselves naturally so each gets some light. Absorb the pattern of life just living there, growing out of the earth towards the sun, and see the greenness with your inner eye.
Focussing on nature helps slow everything down. Looking closely at a leaf and thinking about its structure and the life inside it helps your mind stop turning in smaller and smaller circles and allows it just to relax and be for a bit. You don’t have to think about you and everything that’s bothering you, because now you are thinking about green for a while.
Make a special effort to enjoy the beauty in small things – the movement of leaves in the wind, raindrops running down the window, the shifting shape of clouds in the sky overhead, or a shaft of sun warming your face.
More than two hundred years ago, William Blake wrote
“to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself”. (3)
So try and make a few minutes to focus on the life beneath your feet, above your head – or on your windowsill – every day.
Make a space for your mind to run free.
We walk on it every day. But almost always over a layer of road or pavement or building. Underneath everything we are on, is the ground.
And it’s worth getting down to it.
Studies have shown that being in connection with the ground (sometimes referred to as earthing) can reduce our levels of cortisol (4) (our major stress hormone) and improve mood (5).
Standing, sitting or lying on the ground really does seem to ground you – you can feel your centre, and your connectedness to the earth on which we all live.
So try it.
Take a wool or cotton blanket (not a yoga mat) and a book and lie down in a park or in your garden. Find a tree and sit on the ground with your back to the trunk and think of nothing but breathing for a while. If it’s warm enough, find somewhere where it is safe to take your shoes off and walk on the ground for a while. Even walking barefoot on concrete or stone pathways helps connect you to the earth and remind you that you are part of a bigger living whole.
Think about being on the earth and being really grounded.
Be a part of the world you are part of.
Skip for joy.
We’ve all heard the expression.
But here is a secret: you can skip yourself to finding joy.
Skipping is an easy way to take exercise in small doable bites. You can certainly buy shiny hi-tech skipping ropes, but there are lots of other less expensive, more standard versions online – or you could find one in your local charity shop. When if it comes down to it though, almost any rope will do to get started.
You can skip outside your front door if you don’t live on a busy street, or round the corner if you do. You can skip in the garden or the park – or even in the hallway if that doesn’t bug anyone or break the china.
You can set your own bar however it suits you: skip for 10 skips today and 11 tomorrow and 12 the day after – or you can go straight for a marathon of 100. You can work up to a goal and get beyond it, or just do what you feel comfortable with.
And in the process of skipping you will raise your heart rate, get the blood pumping round your body, get your lungs working harder, and help any toxins your body needed to get rid of to start shifting.
Your whole system will wake up and remember it’s a live, functioning unit. And the odds are that you will end up feeling somehow more cheerful.
Cheap, easy, quick and endlessly flexible.
Skip daily if you can.
It’s a good way to get going!
Just One Thing
Nothing is an instant fix, and it can be hard to try something new when you feel really down.
So pick just one thing and try to do it every day for three days.
Then try for a week.
Then try two things one day out of three.
Bit by bit see if you can build up what you are doing. Use your decisions as marker points in the day, and try to hang on to them.
You might have to push yourself to get started, but it’s amazing what a difference even small things can make if you keep at them.
One step at a time is a good way to get going!
Your next step
Want to learn more about how you can make a major change in how you feel?
Download your copy of Really Getting Better here and learn what no-one’s ever told you about your health.
Bananas and Penguins
And where do the bananas and the penguins come in? Well, if you look up the video for Queen’s song “I’m going slightly mad” you will see both of them :).
3 – William Blake, 1799, Letter to Revd Dr Trusler