It is inevitable that we will all go through times of anxiety in our lives which may be caused by various different circumstances. Sometimes this anxiety will come and go relatively quickly where you don’t pay much attention to it. However, there may be times where it lingers and starts becoming debilitating or all consuming, affecting the way you live your life. It can lead to avoidant behaviours, affect relationships and hinder your ability to fulfil responsibilities. It is so important to build a ‘self-care toolkit’, so that you have resources in place which you can access at any time, to help you manage feelings of anxiety. In the times we are currently in, you may be limited to what you can do but here are some general tools and perspectives that might be useful in helping you to manage anxiety.
ਜਾ ਤੂ ਮੇਰੈ ਵਲਿ ਹੈ ਤਾ ਕਿਆ ਮੁਹਛੰਦਾ ॥
When You are on my side, Lord, what do I need to worry about?
~ Ang 1096 ~
This pangti provides me with comfort, support and strength when experiencing anxiety. Connecting to and contemplating Gurbani through kirtan, katha, santhiya classes and being in sangat has had the most profound affect when managing my anxiety. It reminds me that the deeper meaning and purpose of life is to connect to the light of Waheguru within you. The more you connect to that light the more peaceful your life will become. Guru Granth Sahib Ji is a treasure and ocean of bliss, which provides perspective and insights on how to overcome any obstacle that you will ever face in life. You have to make a conscious decision to make the time and effort to dive into it, in order to experience lasting peace, happiness and resilience throughout life.
Meditation allows you to bring your mind into the present moment. It may be useful to listen to guided meditations to help you focus.
Breathing exercises allow you to feel more in control, focused and can help you cope. Yoga may also be useful to incorporate.
Our physical health is closely linked to our mental health. It is important to get sufficient sleep as it allows the body to have energy to cope with difficult experiences and feelings. Eating a balanced diet and regularly can help to improve mood. Exercise can also give you something to focus on and release feelings of anxiety, helping to improve mental wellbeing. Try to do some form of movement, this could be doing a workout online, dancing to your favourite music or going for a walk.
Find things to do that you enjoy, where you can focus your attention on the task. Some ideas being painting, colouring, baking, listening to music, learning a new skill and watching tv.
Rethink the narrative
Often when you experience anxiety, your body starts to operate from a flight or fight response which alerts you that you need to get out some sort of danger. Most situations that make us feel anxious may not arise from a physical threat and you may start to see it as a negative emotion and one that needs avoiding or that you need to quickly supress. However, if you allow it in with no resistance, you may be surprised on how well you can cope with it by riding the waves of whatever it is you are feeling and take the lesson from it. It could also be useful to set some time to think about your worries. This can act to reassure you that you are not simply trying to supress your thoughts but will allocate time in order to process them later for a fixed period of time. Journaling may be a useful way to record your feeling and thoughts, which may help to identify triggers or things that tend to help you.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This can be accessed through self-help material or in a professional setting. It can be extremely useful in providing strategies and helping you to manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may keep you in a vicious cycle of anxiety. I attended short term sessions of CBT and it made such a difference in changing the way I viewed and managed anxiety. You have to be in a frame of mind to apply the suggestions into your daily life, as I quickly realised that the therapist is there to support you but if you want to experience change you have to do the work! It’s ok though, taking it one step at a time can lead to transformational growth and acceptance that anxiety will come and go, it’s how you respond to it that will shape your perspective in being able to overcome it.
It’s important to speak about how you are feeling with people you trust. Sometimes you don’t need someone to fix your problems or take the anxiety away but having someone there who is willing to listen and hold a safe space for your thoughts and feelings can make such a difference. This can be in the form of people you know in your personal life or reaching out to mental health organisations/charities and professionals. Too often in the Panjabi and Sikh community we tend to brush such issues under the carpet in fear of what will other people think and say, which can actually make things worse. It’s important to focus on what support you need as opposed to other people’s opinions. Remember having peace of mind is what matters the most. The reality is we all go through some kind of struggle which is hard to deal with by ourselves. You are not alone no matter how much you think you might be, you just need to find the right people to help you along the way. Above all, you will always have Waheguru with you 24/7 who knows every thought in your mind and every problem in your life as well as every solution.
Social media can help you stay connected to other people and gives access to a wealth of useful information and support but when you are experiencing anxiety it may do more harm than good. It is important for you to become aware of how you are feeling after using it and take regular breaks from it when you need to. In light of the pandemic and other events that are happening around the world, our minds can become constantly bombarded with distressing news and images. It is also important to take time to switch off from the media as generally it tends to fill your mind with fear rather than positivity. When you are in an anxious state this will only fuel your anxiety and can easily allow your thoughts to spiral. By switching off, this does not mean you have to close your mind to what is happening in the world but use other ways in keeping yourself informed and supporting causes.
This too shall pass
Although I still experience anxiety, specifically health anxiety, which does get draining especially in the midst of a pandemic, I no longer let it take over and consume me. I have to consistently choose to feed my mind with faith over fear.
Remember the more you develop and consistently utilise your self-care tools in your daily life, especially when you are feeling well, the easier it will be to implement them when you are feeling anxious. You’ve got this!