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Anxiety in these uncertain times

As a counsellor, I’m receiving calls and emails from a growing number of people who are finding it difficult to tear themselves away from the news, be it on the television, radio or online. As they tell me about the compulsive nature of their behaviour, driven by anxiety, I am at a loss to do anything to help other than listen and validate their feelings, avoiding catastrophizing and melodrama which adds fuel to their already raging fire.

   Emotions swing from disgust to rage to fear and a profound feeling of doom. All anxiety brings a range of physical symptoms which we can do something about; eating disorders, inability to relax, loss of sense of humour and mysterious aches and pains.

    It’s the sense of powerlessness which drives these feelings and it brings to mind the old adage: ‘Worry is like a rocking horse. It gets you nowhere but gives you something to do.’

   Anxiety is a good thing as it can motivate us into taking some action in order to take back some measure of control. It’s when we allow it to paralyse our thoughts that it digs deeply into the psyche and triggers more serious symptoms.

    When I get bogged down with analysis paralysis the first thing I do is to drastically cut down on my news sources. Flicking between channels or online sources trying to make sense of all the contradictory information can drive you crazy. Studies have shown that when we are really stressed from information overload which we can’t filter properly, the brain gives up trying and accepts what it’s being told. This sounds like how brain washing works. When the brain is exhausted from one activity, it needs rest. Hobbies or activities as I said in my last blog are a life saver. It doesn’t matter what you do: make biscuits, go to a singing class which is fantastic for releasing tension or meet up with friends to talk about anything other than potential war, immigrants, Brexit, the economy and so on…. Make that a rule. With obsessive compulsive behaviours, something has to break the cycle of rumination even if it’s for half an hour.

   Inability to switch off at night for restful sleep is major complaint. Lack of refreshing sleep can make everything seem so much worse and I think this is something that needs proper attention without, hopefully, resorting to drugs. The mind can churn over horrendous possibilities in the early hours thus making the anxiety or mood problems much worse. We may well go to war but we have to be optimistic and take into account that world leaders wouldn’t allow it to happen irrespective of their bluster. In a world teetering on madness, we must stay earthed.

   I lived through the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and while it was very frightening (as well as the Iran-Iraq war), we got through it and became wiser as a result.

    I’m a great believer in being proactive. Is there anything you can do? Write something? Join an activist group to influence policy makers? Go on protest marches? It might not seem worth it as anxiety dulls down the senses and brings a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ True. You might not effect change but by doing something, anything, you will get back a feeling of control and the energy used in worrying will be harnessed for something more positive.

   I manage anxiety through regular yoga sessions. If I can’t find time for a class, then I do ten minutes at home with a video. Similarly at night, I chose a ten minute meditation tape before going to sleep. Everybody can find ten minutes at either end of the day to do something that will calm the mind and therefore calm the fears.

     Knowledge is power so it’s good to understand how politics works rather than focussing on what is coming out of the mouths of politicians who are driven by their own agendas in many cases. It’s a good time to read some of the Greek philosophers.

   My favourite is What Would Aristotle do?


    What we need to remember is that our parents and grandparents went through the world wars and got through the fear, grief and despair because we are in the main resilient and that’s what we really need to develop in order to cope. Grit and determination.

   In whatever way these current world events are affecting our emotional stability, I say this; Maintain your dignity if you find yourself arguing with others because you don’t agree with their point of view. Avoid resorting to yelling, verbally abusing and calling someone as asshole or worse. It destroys your argument. Work on being calm and rational, agreeing to disagree then disengaging.

   It’s your choice as to whether you engage with any of this at all. You can choose to not read a newspaper, mainstream or alternative, not fire a volley on insults in comment boxes or get involved in any sort of attack. It might give you a powerful adrenaline fix for a few moments but what about afterwards? What damage have you done and for what reward?

   I prefer to work towards evolution of self rather than revolution towards others. Rise above it is the one action you can take and make peace with yourself. That’s one way you can take control and reduce the anxiety levels. Nothing can make you feel bad unless you allow it to do so.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote:  You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude” ― Eleanor Roosevelt



Can't Sleep? Join the Club!

An imaginative novel, Café Insomnia by bestselling author, Mark Capell, has helped me cope with another period of sleeplessness over the past few days. Twenty five year old Justin Brook opens an all-night café for those who can’t sleep. Strange things happens in the shadow hours just as they do in your head when you are jolted awake at 2.21 am for weeks on end.

When I was active, raising children, running a business, a home and doing the red-eye run to New York on a regular basis, I had no difficulty in sinking into blissful slumber as soon as the clock struck nine. I’ve always been an early to bed and early to rise kind of girl. I think the rot set in when my girls were teenagers. Half an ear strained for the phone, one eye on the clock as it ticked through the early hours before a ‘Mum, no taxis and I’m cold,’ broke through my semi consciousness.

You would think that once they left home I would relish long lavender baths, cups of hot chocolate a good book and hours of delicious sleep. If only.

Instead I suffer from chronic periods of insomnia which are taking a toll on my energy, my mood and no doubt my health. I’ve tried out all the recommended tips: lavender, camomile tea (yuk) some herbal stuff that smells like cheesy feet, a brisk walk before bed ( lethal in my case), stretching, turning off the radio, a boring book, getting up to clean the kitchen floor or God forbid to do some ironing. Nothing works.

A doctor told me said, ‘You can’t sleep because you’re depressed and you’re depressed because you can’t sleep.’ Helpful. Not. Depression and anxiety can cause early morning waking and I do experience periods of both. Illness, trauma, fear and any powerful emotion can break a sleep pattern up to the point it becomes a nightmare (sorry)  to correct it. The more you worry about getting to sleep the harder is it.

Some changes to my routine have helped a bit. These are my top three. (These don’t necessarily apply to shift workers or people with broken sleep because of babies or demanding relatives who also can’t sleep and ring you for a chat.)

  1. Saying to myself it doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep tonight. It’s about taking the pressure off the need to get to sleep by a certain time. Ok so you will feel scratchy the next morning and shattered the next night but by taking the pressure off to ‘perform’ as it were can induce relaxation which is the key to sleep.
  2. Listening to a meditation tape. Ten minutes of shut-eye and a few stretches while your mind floats off to Fantasy Island where your horrible boss is eaten by a shark. Maybe. I don’t have any boss, fortunately.
  3. Creating a suitable sleeping environment. I always have my window open a crack even in the winter to keep the air circulating. Black out blinds or curtains are a great help in the long, light nights. The biggest change you can make in my opinion is turning off all gadgets, especially with screens, an hour before bed time. I don’t even have mine in the room. Quiet, soothing activities prepare the mind and body for a restful night.

I do get up in the early hours if I’m struggling and no I don’t clean the kitchen floor. I write a hundred words as I’m doing now. It’s amazing how the eyes just want to close when work is in sight.

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