I’ve written about my battle with anxiety on my blog over and over again, so it only felt right to start talking about it now, when people are experiencing worry and stress more than ever. Over the past decade, I feel like I’ve tried everything to calm my mind and find inner peace. At the ripe age of 29, soon to be 30, I feel like I’ve finally started to get a grip on my mental health and control over my anxiety.
As a small business owner, in the middle of buying a house, and trying to plan a future with my husband, it’s safe to say – COVID-19 has been tough. We’re so incredibly lucky that our business only took a hit in the first few weeks, and bounced back very quickly, which I’m so grateful for. But emotionally, it’s been a rollercoaster, as I’m sure it has been for many.
Managing stress and anxiety is super important. Now, when I feel the anxiety looming, I quickly nip it in the bud. If you told me to do this 5 years ago, I would have laughed and told you that’s not how anxiety works. Coming from someone who’s suffered chronically though, I can tell you now, gradually things get more manageable. So here are some ways that work for me in reducing my anxiety and finding a sense of calm.
1. Set a routine
Every morning I wake up in a haze of mild stress and anxiety around 7:30 – 8 am, which is a huge improvement from what I used to experience. Getting a full 8 hours of sleep is crucial in keeping these anxiety levels low, otherwise, I end up waking up at the same time but feeling a lot worse. I start the morning with a little meditation before anything else. Once I’ve dedicated 10 minutes or so to this, I get ready and go downstairs.
I’m guilty of jumping straight into work, but this actually reduces my anxiety by looking at my project management system and seeing what my day looks like (with my schedule booked 2 – 3 weeks in advance). I quickly get into the flow and spend the day working to a goal-orientated plan with regular breaks. Staying productive when working from home is a topic within itself, so there’s a separate blog post for that here if you want to know how to keep motivated when WFH. I usually walk to the beach for a swim on either my lunch break or at the end of the day, depending on what my schedule will allow and how busy I am.
I switch off my laptop at 5:30pm, no excuses! The last thing I want to be doing in my spare time is sitting in front of a screen. I tend to wash my hair, jump into my silk pyjamas from Jasmine Silk, and snuggle up with a book by about 10pm. I honestly first bought my pair of silk pyjamas a few years ago because I thought they looked cute but they help me sleep so much better – especially in the summer. There’s something so refreshing about getting out the shower and putting on something super light and soft. I’m obsessed with wearing silk now and wouldn’t wear anything else during the summer.
Currently OBSESSED with these gorgeous candles from St Eval. They smell incredible and really compliment the natural vibe we have in the house. St Eval as a brand is inspired by natural surroundings, and they tread softly on the earth, protecting flora and fauna. They produce their own energy via wind, solar and biomass, and recycle packaging – pretty amazing stuff.
2. Practise meditation
I’ve been meditating on and off for years but I made the effort to dedicate more time to practising meditation during lockdown. Meditation is such a great way to find your sense of calm and I highly recommend it to anyone that hasn’t tried it before. You only need to dedicate 5 – 10 minutes a day to feel the benefit.
Sometimes this can feel a little daunting and people say “but I don’t know what I’m doing”, but it’s really easy to get started:
- Find a quiet spot and set a timer for 5 minutes
- Sit upright in a chair, kneeling or in the lotus position
- Once comfortable, breathe deeply and close your eyes
- Check-in with how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally
- Count your breaths backwards from 20, then start again
- If your mind wanders, start counting again from 20
Guided meditations are great for beginners. You can listen to hundreds of guided meditations by downloading Headspace for Android or Apple. It’s free initially and if you like it, you can sign up to a premium version to access more features. Alternatively, there are lots of great outdoor meditation sessions that are running during COVID. This is a great way to meet new people and learn techniques to improve your meditation.
3. Have time-out
If I’ve had a particularly stressful week or I have a big day ahead of me, I’ll create a relaxing evening for myself. This is my attempt to feel a little pampered when I can’t go to the spa during lockdown (I’m sorely missing my monthly massages and eyebrow appointment!). I’m not a huge bath person, mainly because I find it hard to relax unless I’m focusing on something, but I find the more time I’m dedicating to unwinding in the tub, the easier I’m finding it. I’ve recently started using the Valmars bath pillow and it’s been a game-changer.
Whenever I try to read in the bath I feel myself slipping – which is probably because I’m so short I can’t reach the bottom of the tub 🙈 but this bath pillow has completely changed my night-time ritual. The pillow is filled with soft foam for your comfort while the two-panelled design supports your upper back with no slippage —thanks to the 7 strong suction cups used to keep it in place. It’s ergonomically built to bend around the edges of the tub while supporting your head and neck. It’s much better than the make-shift bath pillow that I used to make out of a towel, which would inevitably fall in the bath and get soaking wet.
Taking time out doesn’t just mean you have to have a bath though, it can mean anything. Sometimes we go for a walk along our favourite estuary and cook dinner on the beach. Whatever it is, take some time for it and do something different that helps you disconnect and appreciate the little things. It’ll help you unwind and find clarity.
4. Limit screen time
Put your phone in a drawer and switch off the television. Running a digital marketing agency and a blog means I can’t help but spend half my day in front of the computer because it’s how I pay the bills and keep a roof over our head. For me, this means I actually don’t get a lot of joy out of being in front of a screen, even when it does not work, it still feels like it.
I usually keep my personal phone in another room whilst I’m working and about 4 years ago I switched off all my notifications (excluding Whatsapp and Messenger). This really helps with distractions and stops the mindless scrolling on social media, whilst helping me still stay connected with the people I love. Last month I decided to log out of my social media channels and have a complete digital detox and I feel so much lighter for it.
We don’t really watch much TV. It’s the last thing my brain feels like doing after I’ve been looking at a screen all day. We don’t have a television in our bedroom and we only have a small screen in our lounge. I catch up with the news on my lunch break and then watch an hour of television in the evening with my husband. Don’t get me wrong, I love the occasional Netflix binge on a chilly November weekend, but during the summer I don’t feel like sitting in front of television lifts my spirits, when I could be doing something else.
Do whatever makes you happy, but do it mindfully. Are you sitting in front of the television just for the sake of it or are you genuinely enjoying it? If you don’t feel like you have the time to exercise, meditate or cook, this is the first thing to consider cutting from your schedule.
5. Avoid triggers
For me, my triggers were really clear. Alcohol was the root of all my anxiety problems, but I didn’t want to give up drinking in my twenties. Eventually, I gave in and stopped drinking and it was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (…and here’s why). I couldn’t imagine going back to my old way of life and drinking again. I’m grateful that my anxiety trigger was so easy to identify and simple for me to remove from my life (as much as I resisted). Whilst your trigger might be harder to avoid, such as social situations, for example. There are some things you can do to reduce your anxiety levels.
Firstly, switch to decaf tea (I did this years ago and never looked back!), and reduce your booze intake. For me, it was easier to go cold turkey than it was to drink less alcohol because saying no to the first is easier than saying no to the third. The decision is completely personal and it’s up to you how much you choose to drink. Ultimately, I get so much more from my life by not being compromised by alcohol. I remember everything clearly, I build meaningful connections, I’m never hungover, and I don’t plan my events around alcohol, such as arranging taxis or deciding what to drink.
Giving up booze doesn’t have to be boring (in a matter of fact, I actually enjoy my nights out more now that I don’t drink!). I DO get bored of always drinking soft drinks though, so I’m always on the hunt for tasty alcohol-free alternatives. Right now I’m loving Nona Drinks ❤️ This is the perfect adult’s drink, without the fuzzy head or the morning regret. If you’ve had any AF drinks, you’ll know it’s a hard taste to get right, but Nona Drinks has completely hit the nail on the head with this citrus flavour drink followed by a herbal touch.
6. Exercise regularly
I love being outdoors, and more specifically, in the sea. I’ve always been a fan of surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding, you name it – it’s one of the many perks of living in Cornwall. At the beginning of the year, I signed up to the RNLI charity 1-mile open water swim, Castle to Castle, from Falmouth to St Mawes. Whilst I was always a really strong swimmer and confident in the sea, I’d never learnt how to swim freestyle. It was a huge learning curve practising breathing underwater, but with the help of swim lessons, private coaching sessions, and HOURS of practice, the penny dropped.
The swim event was inevitably postponed and eventually cancelled earlier this week, but I’ve continued to get in the sea almost every day. This has made a huge difference to my mood and it’s the one time I feel like I can completely disconnect and forget about any of my worries. For you, it doesn’t have to be getting in the sea (although I highly recommend it!). It can be any type of exercise that you find fun and look forward to doing – not something you dread doing. I started going to the local Surf Life Saving Club twice a week when lockdown was relaxed and sessions were allowed to run again (with social distancing in place!).
Someone once described Surf Life Saving to me as “training to be a lifeguard and dealing with emergency situations but in a competitive environment”, which pretty much sums it up! We learn surf rescue, swim competitively, and do things like beach sprints and water safety. This BBC video filmed at my local club explains it in a bit more detail. SLS has been incredibly challenging but really fun and crucial for keeping my anxiety at bay. Consider signing up to a club if you want some routine, to meet new people, and to try something new.
What’re your tips for reducing your anxiety without drugs during COVID-19?