My latest contact with the NHS was this morning. My wonderful Iraqi dentist knows I’m an anxious patient and is unfailingly gentle. I am absolutely delighted to report that during today’s consultation, she allayed my fears about the need for ‘root canal work’ which, last summer, she had warned might be necessary. Phew!
I had to learn anxiety management from an early age. As a sensitive child, I was frightened of the dark and big dogs and many of the other childhood ‘bogeys’. The popularity of 'worry monster' toys suggests to me that my grandchildren are going through the same process. The world can seem like a threatening place for sensitive people of all ages! My experience is that anxiety doesn’t decrease as you grow older and supposedly more ’rational’!
Whatever the future holds, I believe that many of us can lighten our lives and those we love by developing strategies for managing everyday anxieties. The burden for teaching children and young people falls on parents, grandparents and teachers in particular. This is an important responsibility. Unless we take time to listen to each other across the generations and respect the difficulties we are all facing, we shall find ourselves isolated from each other, 'living but partly living' (TS Eliot). On a practical level, our mental health services will face even more extreme pressure than they do at present.
At various times in my life, I’ve had the chance to develop the strategies my parents taught me for managing anxiety. I reviewed some of them on the way to the dentist’s today. I’m sharing some of them below in no particular order:
Be as honest as you can. Ask yourself – what am I anxious about...really?
Don’t beat yourself up about being anxious. Most people are anxious about something at some time in their lives – and if they say they’re not, they will have other vulnerabilities!
Do some research - check all the facts around and compare them to the mental picture you have of whatever you’re anxious about.
Check whether you are ‘catastrophizing’ – whether you are exaggerating or over-dramatizing the future.
Face your options. Is there is anything you can do to assuage your anxiety? If there is something you can do – find the courage to do it, even if you only take baby steps towards it, keep moving in the right direction!
If there is nothing you can do, try to think about something which you know will distract you from your anxiety. You may not manage it perfectly but...do try!
Give voice to your anxiety. Either write it down or find someone who will listen to you talk about it. The choice of a listener is very important. Don’t talk to someone who is likely to dismiss your fear – or ‘fix’ you with platitudes – ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine!’ Look for someone who will listen to you without judgement. Sometimes just describing your fears out loud is enough to help you recognise the accuracy or otherwise of your anxiety.
Check your physical health. Eat wisely and take plenty of exercise.
Recognise that anxiety is always worse when you are tired. Things often look better after a good night’s sleep.
Learn to relax...it’s an important skill.
Spend time with someone or something that makes you laugh!
Pray and/or practise deep breathing...10-20 minutes a day. Habitual, daily practice is more important than length or perfect skill.