Every day I receive emails filled with statistics on the nation’s current anxiety levels. But I don’t need the stats. I see it everywhere. One friend can’t complete the smallest task without feeling stressed. Another tells me her sister can’t leave her house. Then there’s my colleague who can’t drive on the motorway without having a panic attack. I fully relate to this level of fear which has rocketed due to the pandemic. I’ve suffered from debilitating anxiety at various times in my life, starting in my 20s. I was awoken in the middle of the night by a horrifying sensation that I can only describe as feeling like I was drowning; drenched in sweat, I couldn’t breathe. I realised the next day I’d had a panic attack. The following year was terrifying. Every day, I’d wake up with a level of fear akin to finding an intruder at the end of my bed. Of course there never was one, but no amount of rationalising could turn off that feeling of terror.
I did come out of the other side, but have suffered with anxiety a few times since. The difference is I’m no longer scared of it. I’m not a psychotherapist, but I’ve spoken to a lot of them in the course of my work. Here are the things that have helped me keep my anxiety in check. I hope they help you, too.
TALKING At first, I thought I was the only person in the world trying to cope with anxiety, because no one ever discussed it. Then my editor at the time told me that she too had suffered to the point of being hospitalised. Finding the courage to tell someone lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders and opened my eyes to how common this experience is.
THERAPY There are many types of anxiety, from OCD to generalised anxiety disorder (me!). A great therapist can help you to put an action plan in place. To find one near you ask your GP or head to nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/
EATING HEALTHILY Ninety per cent of serotonin (the hormone that helps us feel happy) is created in the gut so it makes sense that what we eat can alter our brain chemistry. When it comes to anxiety, sugar and caffeine are like a match to petrol. Cut them out. Instead fill your diet with fruit and veg. Alcohol may seem like a great way to soothe anxiety, but relief is temporary. And a hangover tends to make anxiety feel even worse.
EXERCISE One of the biggest game-changers for me was discovering the power of exercise to make space and calm in my brain. Its anti-anxiety effects are underestimated. Make it a priority.
SELF-CARE AND RELAXATION We all need downtime, it’s an important part of being human (cavemen rested – a lot). Do not ignore that instinctive need.
MEDICATION I am all for adding natural goodness into our lives, but I also believe in modern science. Medication saves lives and it could change yours. There is no medal for ‘toughing it out’.
FINALLY… While I never dreamt in my 20s that anxiety was a blessing, I now know it is. It’s all part of me being creative and sensitive. Flip your anxiety on its head and work out how it might be a good thing. After all, it is your body trying to protect you.
Cocktail hour gets creative
Seedlip were pioneers of the non-alcoholic spirit. This summer they have teamed up with natural paint brand Edward Bulmer on three beautifully illustrated limited-edition bottles that come with two art canvases and some mini Edward Bulmer paints to put the creativity and calm into cocktail hour. £30, seedlipdrinks.com
Bagsy one of these!
I have recently discovered a company called La Pochette whose mission is to streamline our ‘throw everything in’ gym and handbags. The Sweat Bags (below, £30) are super stylish, water-resistant and antibacterial, meaning you can chuck your post-workout kit in without stinking out the clean stuff. And the Wet Bags (from £55) are the perfect post swim long-life alternative to plastic bags. lapochette.co