When I’m not being a writer and editor, I’m a mentor in a local school. Many of the pupils I see struggle with anxiety, and in these times, that’s all of us isn’t it?
I wanted to share a simple three-step process designed to ‘reset’ your system when anxiety takes over. It involves activity, relaxation, and thinking of a happy memory – all things you can do under lockdown conditions!
Nearly all my happy memories are of holidays. My upcoming novel, The Year of the Ghost is about a treasured annual family holiday which one year is the scene of a haunting. It’s a story of family: of brokenness, secrets and love. The characters are not my family, but it is based on our annual pilgrimage to my father’s Welsh homeland. My memories of this beautiful place span most of my life and my happiest times. I have spent the last couple of years immersed in them as I write.
The good news is that those memories which keep you going through the winter can be accessed in this difficult time, and all the good feelings they give you will bolster your spirits right now. There's a reason why people all over the world are sharing pictures of beaches!
I have a constant background hum of alarm, apprehension and sadness which I put aside as I try to live this crisis one day at a time. But the effort of powering through it tires me out. Most of the time, I'm fine, but I have bouts of low mood and over-sensitivity that are not like the usual me.
These three steps are designed to help when anxiety becomes overwhelming, but at the moment I’d suggest that we need them all the time!
When you’re worried, your heart beats faster and your stomach feels wrong. Just becoming aware of these symptoms can make the anxiety worse. The first step to resetting your body is to do something active and fun: take your daily outside exercise or do something indoors. Make sure it’s actually fun, not something you have to force yourself to do! Dance to your favourite song, do step aerobics to music on your bottom stairs, play table tennis on the dining room table, bounce a ball against the wall… Changing how your body feels is a quick and effective way to start transforming your state of mind. Now move onto the next step.
Tense all your muscles at once: make tight fists, clench your buttocks and tighten your leg muscles, then scrunch up your face. Count to 5 with everything clenched! Then let go, loosen, relax.
Now take a deep breath in through your nose. Picture the air going in, down to your belly and out to every part of your body… then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Again, let the good, cooling, balmy air in through your nose – and all the tension will flow out through your mouth. Do this five times altogether, in and out, in and out...
3 Your happy memory
Think of a time you were happy and relaxed, perhaps in your favourite place. Remember all the details: the smells, the sights, the sounds. How did it make you feel inside? Be there again in your mind. Relish it, revel in it, enjoy that feeling now.
I really hope that this combination of getting your body moving, relaxing and remembering a happy time will help you through your day.