First of all, welcome! You’ve made it to Anxiety-Land. You might be a newcomer, or you might have been here for a very long time, but one way or another, you’re here. Or more to the point we’re here. What is here, though?

For me, personally, here occasionally feels like I’ve made really good friends with an elephant — whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes that elephant likes to sit on my chest for a bit, and sometimes that elephant expands to just fill up every inch of space around me so that I feel like I’ve been pushed into a very small corner, with not a lot of room to move, or get out.

Other times the elephant is having a session of jumping-jacks on the roof of my house and it seems like the sky is falling, the walls are crumbling and the ground beneath me is anything but stable. Does that sound familiar? If so, then once again: Welcome! You’ve recognised that you’re probably dealing with feelings of anxiety too.

The Good News

I do have some good new for you though: you are not alone. And thanks to the global crisis that COVID-19 has brought on, for the first time ever (probably) almost every single person on the planet currently knows what its like to feel this way. And no, I won’t pretend that its fun, that it’s a lovely way to feel — but I will acknowledge that I appreciate the conversations around mental health that are arising from this.

We’re really not alone anymore in having these feelings — and whats more, people who used to brush off anxiety, depression, etc., as just being “made-up,” “exaggerated,” “hysterical,” “boredom,” etc., are experiencing it too, and realising the effects it really has on you (us). While it’s becoming a global issue, it’s also becoming a global conversation and that can only be positive.

So the silver-lining is that in a funny way, we’re less “alone” with this than ever before, and there’s a lot more awareness around mental-health issues.

The Even Better News

While having this rather uncomfortable elephant around isn’t exactly cause for a party, the great bit of news is that there are many ways to cope with it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes the elephant just does what it will do and takes over, but I for one love knowing that at least I have a toolbox of things at my disposal to help me deal with it when it starts to make an appearance.

So what are a few of these tools? I’m just going to lay out a few suggestions — they might work for you, or you might get inspired to find a few of your own, but here goes:

  • Writing: letting it all out on a piece of paper, real or virtual, is a great way to release some of that pressure, and also it allows you to recognise what is triggering you by being able to read back some of what you’ve written and therefore have more of an upper hand on anxiety.
  • Crafting/Art: If you’re not a fan of writing you can always try any form of arts and crafts — keeping your hands occupied also keeps your mind occupied and can be a wonderful way of letting things out too. You can take up colouring from a mindfulness colouring book, you can let it all out on a piece of paper by drawing, painting, etc. (it doesn’t have to be worthy of a gallery or museum, it just has to be whatever you want it to be, who cares!), you can take up knitting, embroidery, cross-stitching (I am currently addicted to these latter categories)…the world of arts and crafts is massive, and has plenty of options for everyone.
  • Exercising: Again, such a big world, the world of exercise. There is something out there for everyone. Try jogging, stretching, boxing, aerobics (80’s Jane Fonda, anyone?), jumping-jacks (if the elephant can do this, then you can definitely do it), yoga, etc. And another bit of good news that has come from this weird new world we find ourselves in: there are SO MANY online classes, tutorials, videos, and more to help you try almost anything out!
  • Breathing: This one is my personal favourite — it’s accessible to all. It’s your main tool in your toolbox. Using your breath to get that elephant off your chest, to make him smaller and give you some space, or to just get him off of the damn roof! The deeper you breathe in, and the slower you breathe out, the more you’ll be able to slow yourself down, to win back some space. You’ll literally be slowing down your heart rate, get it to stop pounding away, and bringing some well deserved calm into your body and mind. It’s not magic, and sometimes it feels like an impossible task, but once you tap into it, then it works very, very well.

Yoga and Anxiety

You might have noticed that I highlighted the word “yoga” while talking about exercise. This is because yoga has been a vital part of my personal journey through anxiety. It has become my best breathing tool, the most important tool in my toolbox.

With yoga, I’ve learned to breathe again, silly as it sounds. While moving through different yoga poses, I’ve learned to reconnect with my breath, making it deeper, slower, longer, which makes my movements through practice more thoughtful.

Now, this does not mean that I consider myself a “brilliant” yogi (whatever that looks like!): I get distracted easily while taking a class, my mind wanders, I have moments of vanity where I wish I was bendier, stronger, or had nicer leggings…but none of that really matters because at the end of the day, what I have learned through yoga is that as soon as one of those little annoying thoughts starts creeping in, I can always come back to my breath. One deep inhale followed by a long exhale, and I’m physically and mentally back on my mat, moving through what’s needed and forgetting whatever popped into my mind previously.

And really, that’s all I can ask for — remembering that through my breath I can let go of things that “don’t matter” (using this term very loosely) in that particular moment. We all have things that concern us, things that can weigh us down and feel like we don’t know how to navigate ourselves out of them, but through our breath we can take a step back from them, and learn how to look at them with a calmer lens.

To move in and out of our comfort zones and know that whatever happens we have tools that help us deal with things. I know that yoga, and breathing, is not a cure, a magic wand, or a life-problem solver — but what it does help with is to ease your anxiety, your worries and your stresses, so that you can look at the bigger picture without having that bloody elephant hanging around. It gives you a little space to look at things and figure out what the next steps are, without going into a downwards spiral. Life’s not perfect, and problems are still there, but using these tools we can at least manage our emotions and move forward, one day (or one yoga pose) at a time.

So, whatever happens next, know that you are in good company, you’re not alone with this, and that whether you’ve realised it or not, there are many wonderful ways to navigate the world of anxiety. Recognise it, accept it, and start to move through life with it. It’s a nuisance, but we can breathe through it and make it easier.

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