Our current era may be digital and sexily “disruptive”, but there are undoubtedly widening fault-lines in people’s capacity to cope.
One doesn’t even have to step outside the door to perceive how very tightly strung most of us are. Sally Blount in her “Wormhole Decade” piece aptly summarised many of the recent causes.
In the wake of Brexit, grassroots revolt, stockmarket plunges, widespread job insecurity, deaths of innocent people, proliferation of cyber bullying and an epidemic of loneliness – is it any wonder that people are suffering overload and anxiety? Or have trouble getting out of bed?
Anxiety paralyses some, while for others, it acts like a cattle prod that gives no peace. It may unexpectedly erupt from personal criticism, usually as a result of insecurity about one’s situation. For others, there is no specific explanation for the bubbling unease that poisons every waking moment.
Anxiety hijacks our wellbeing
Anxiety takes over when one’s strength or effectiveness is worn down through repeated attacks or pressure. Severe anxiety of course requires professional help.
Here are the typical situations where anxiety can hijack day-to-day mental wellbeing for particular groups of people:
- The vulnerable. Some people react to every minute change around them. They may be snappy, easily bruised, quick to infer things that may not be intended. When they talk, they may tear up and then force a smile or shrug. They may seem agitated. This is particularly so when they’ve borne the brunt of ongoing slings and arrows, bad luck and residual upset that hasn’t been cleared.
- The control illusionist likes to believe they’re on top of things, but then the dominoes start falling. They’re outwardly strong, capable and not easily rattled, striding into work strong each day. But unexpectedly just when they’ve maintained the perfect shopfront for as long as possible, someone prods and a flare up occurs, or someone gently asks them how they feel (or something similar) and before you know it – tears or meltdown. So it’s all an illusion of being in control.
- The shock absorber know things are bad, but choose to absorb the overload of negative stimuli rather than freak out or explode in fury. Watch for when such people’s reactions become flat or seemingly uninterested. They may be suffering deeply and silently.
- The recalcitrant. This is a person in deep denial of their overload. They persuade themselves they’re coping and stubbornly refuse to admit the gravity of their situation. Loved ones, friends and colleagues will try to get this person to see the error of their ways, but the recalcitrant metaphorically has fingers in his/her ears. It is desperately sad to witness, particularly if one knows that the recalcitrant is in pain.
Tips for managing anxiety
There are few “off the counter” solutions to the debilitation caused by anxiety and overload, but the following tips may assist:
- Breathe slowly, deeply and evenly through your nose (not mouth). Listen to your breathing, ridding your mind of all distractions. (When anxious, people’s heart and breathing rates accelerate.) Do this as often as you need to – away from everyone.
- Go somewhere peaceful, preferably scenic or just sunny and take in the view. Don’t eyeball it, just let it fill your eyes.
- Take a walk or perhaps some gentle exercise. Try to think as little as possible – this is giving your overtaxed brain a chance to recharge. Try to manage this on a daily basis. Sleep is important for regenerating one’s neural pathways, but so too is rest.
- Unplug from online and on tap. Give yourself a complete break for a day from your computer, phone and the internet. If you can, make it a week or longer! Neurotically checking social media or the latest online news every few minutes does nothing for your peace of mind – rather the reverse. Listen instead to what people in your office, neighbourhood or elsewhere are saying, discover interest in who they are and where they came from. Listen to good music of your choice. Or do activities different from your usual routine, such as learning a new skill at an unhurried pace.
- Find something that gives you a real belly laugh or enjoy videos or books with young kids. (I had a big laugh with my grandkids as we watched It’s Bug’s Life – especially Heimlich the caterpillar)
- Do something nice and unobtrusive for someone else. It warms you – don’t be afraid to try.
- Counselling. If the anxiety or sense of overwhelm is threatening to break, seek counselling to help dislodge the “stones” sinking your being. Choose a non-judging, experienced and empathetic advisor who really takes, and helps you take, “the long view”.
What you need most of all is to regain perspective and your emotional and mental integrity.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.