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Week 4, Session 2: Long term strategies to manage anxiety

Hello everyone! Welcome to our very final session. Take a moment to be proud of yourself for making it through the course. We’ll mention it a few times this session, but we’re so honoured with the work and trust you have put into the process of reading this course and doing the homeworks.

If this is the first time you are reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

Before we get into the goals for the session, as always let’s go over our grounding exercise and fun question. Our last ones! So if you can, please join in. 

**Today’s grounding exercise is…
**Stop and take a moment to listen. Just listen. What do you hear? Birds chirping? Cars outside? Maybe it’s really quiet where you are and all you can hear is your own breath or your heart beating. Notice and name what sounds you can hear nearby. Start with the closest or loudest sounds. Gradually move your awareness of sounds outward, so you are focusing on what you can hear in the distance. 

Even if you can’t get to a place with only natural sound and silence, this is a great grounding exercise to give your mind a break from constantly filtering out noises. This kind of selective attention can be very tiring, so taking a moment to stop and actually hear all the noises in our environment that we usually ‘tune out’, whatever those noises are, can be very refreshing. 

Fun question: What was your favourite game as a child?

While this is our final session and we’re nearing the end of this journey, we’re not finished learning just yet! We still have some more material to go over with you all. So the goals for this session are:

  • Learning about coping mechanisms that can help manage feelings of anxiety
  • Understand the importance of having a variety of anxiety management techniques
  • Goodbye and next steps

In our last session, we looked at things you can do on the spot when a moment of anxiety emerges and we have to deal with it. As we said with these techniques, practice makes perfect, so practicing them even in smaller or less intense moments of anxiety is important, so that we can turn to them when our need for them is greater. 

However, whilst these techniques are of course very important, today we also want to look at long term strategies or coping mechanisms that you can put in place as a preventative measure and keep in your life as consistently as possible. We have created a list especially for anxiety.

Firstly, having structure is helpful to many people with anxiety: it makes sure we get everything done that we need to get done, provides us with a tangible way of tackling the things that are making us anxious, and helps us keep track of what we’ve done to keep those anxious thoughts at bay. So, here are a few considerations for how to keep structure to track and manage our anxiety.

  • Create worry time: if you find it difficult to manage your worries on a regular basis and feel that they start accumulating, a technique that really works well for a lot of people is allocating time to focus on them. Set some time aside to think about your worries and put a timer on. Maybe 15 minutes. You can write down all the worries that are running through your head in one column and potential solutions in another. For some people, just getting them out is enough without the need to look for solutions. This way you can feel you have dedicated time to think about these things but you do not spend too much time of your day ruminating about them. If you catch yourself worrying about things when it's not the time, make sure you tell your mind “not now! I will think about this during my worry time”.

  • Use schedule and routine, if that is helpful for you. Maybe include worry time in your schedule! A few of the different anxiety management techniques we’ve gone through along the way have been about schedule: for example, if responding to work emails is a trigger for your anxiety, as well as managing how and when you get notifications on your phone, scheduling the couple of times each day when you’ll check work emails could be helpful. And make sure you also schedule good things in there too: as we’ve said before, we so often push ourselves to perform the things required of us at work or at home, and push off the nice things. Don’t push it off; put something nice - a walk, a phone call with a friend, 30 minutes to rest with music - in your schedule, and hold yourself accountable to doing it. On the other hand, for work things, having a task list in your schedule wherein you can tick things off is a satisfying and tangible way of marking what you have done.

  • Keep a diary: this one isn’t necessarily about structure, but it can be! Many people find that keeping a diary as a routine helps maintain the habit, and also makes it something cathartic to look forward to: so spending 10 minutes at the end of every day writing about what happened that day. Or, some people find that spending a short amount of time at the beginning of every day, like 5 minutes, writing down everything that is on their mind is helpful: unstructured flow to release all those anxious thoughts that might burden our minds throughout the day, and help us identify what we can actually do to manage them. This is similar to the short-term anxiety technique of writing concerns in your thought diary that we went over last time.

Whether you write in your diary as a routine or just when you need it, keeping a diary is a great tool for tracking our anxious thoughts and feelings; like we did in this course, keeping notes of when you feel anxious can help you identify your triggers and also the things that have worked for you in managing stress and anxiety. A diary can be a great idea to also record good memories and stories! If you have found this exercise helpful during the course, we suggest continuing with it and seeing how it goes. Some people do not like writing, or don’t feel comfortable doing it. If this sounds like you, you can try recording voice notes on your phone and sending them to yourself or keeping them so you can use that as an oral journal.

We also want to remind you of the strategies for managing our relationship with anxiety triggers and red flags. The first step is knowledge, and as we just said this is one of the many reasons we have encouraged you to keep a thought diary.

By writing down when you experience anxiety, you will be able to notice patterns, and then of course the triggers for those patterns. Once you have done so, remember some of the following techniques for keeping in touch with your triggers and how to cope with them.

  • Keep your red flags at bay, like with caffeine, nicotine and alcohol: we know these are inherently connected to an increase in anxiety so try to keep them under control. They might feel good in the short term but make us feel more anxious in the long term. Can you think of other things you can do instead when you feel the urge? 
  • Maintain a healthy relationship with your triggers: you already know them, so make sure to keep that list at hand and in your mind so you can continue to manage your relationship with them. As we have discussed, this relationship will be a long lasting one, and some new ones may join in the way as some old ones leave us. Staying connected to how we are feeling and what is coming up for us is key to managing anxiety.
  • Continue practicing all the “on the spot” strategies and the homework activities we have been doing together! Breathing shift, body relaxation, grounding exercises, safe place, planned distractions.
  • Keep your coping mechanisms close by: What helps you get through the day? What brings you joy? Coping mechanisms are how we deal with our daily stressors. These are all of the fun, relaxing activities we’ve encouraged you to do all along; cooking, music, spending time with friends, TV and books. Like with everything, coping mechanisms are healthy in context! If you overuse one, it can wear out and start becoming unhealthy so keep as many coping mechanisms in your pocket as you can to keep it varied and healthy.

Our anxiety can be an inherently isolating experience, which traps us in our thoughts and feelings and makes us feel like there is something wrong with us: so don’t isolate yourself. Put yourself in environments and with people where you are loved and supported; where your anxiety isn’t doubted, but your concerns are held with empathy and compassion.

  • Talk to someone you trust: it might be a friend, a colleague, a family member or a professional. Hearing yourself saying the things that are worrying you or making you anxious can have a massive impact on the way you deal with them. It can bring clarity to your situation and make you feel contained and reassured. If you feel anxiety is getting in the way of your normal functioning, speaking to your doctor or a therapist can help you find support or strategies that are tailored to you.
  • Stay connected whilst maintaining your and the personal boundaries of loved ones: keep in touch with your loved ones, they are usually very good to make us disconnect from our worries and concerns. Loneliness and isolation increase feelings of anxiety so it's important we stay in touch with our friends and family as much as we can. Yes, some people may cause us to feel anxious so of course, in those cases it's important to think about your boundaries and consider who is the right person to meet if you are starting to feel anxious or if you are worried your anxiety might get triggered while you’re with them. If you don’t have people who you feel you can trust with your boundaries in this way right now, that’s fine. You will find them. And if you’d like some more material on boundaries head over to our ‘Creating boundaries’ course which is also on Soul Medicine!

Finally, like we’ve said all along: look after yourself. 

  • Focus on your physical health: drink enough water, balance your diet, get enough sleep, do physical exercise. Cover all these bases and you will start seeing the impact on your anxiety levels.

  • Keep enjoyable and fun things in your life: we need that adrenaline boost and the energy we get from doing things we like. Think about the things that bring you joy and do them, do them a lot. 

  • We don’t just say this idly. Investing time and energy in activities we enjoy and that we find fulfilling helps us reset that balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which we introduced you to in the very first session. With anxiety, our bodies spend a lot of time in 3F mode; by making a conscious effort to slow down and relax, we are teaching our bodies how to manage anxiety. 

And please remember, stay kind to yourself during this process. 

Remind yourself that feelings of anxiety and fear are normal and that we all experience them. You have control over your mind and system by putting into place different coping mechanisms, understanding your triggers, and evoking a state of relaxation.

You can bring back your prefrontal cortex activity and turn off the amygdala. 

Try to not get disheartened if you don't succeed straight away; it can take a little bit of time, but each time you try these techniques, your body is learning them and will save a piece of them in your memory to use them when the time comes.

What we have wanted to convey with this course is how anxiety manifests at so many levels, those anxiety layers: in our bodies, in our thoughts, minds, and feelings, and in our behaviours. We hope that this course has helped you peel some of those layers; self-knowledge, and recognising the ways that anxiety manifests for you personally, is the best path for finding the techniques that will suit you personally. As we have said, you are the best expert of your own anxiety - although trusted loved ones can act as key witnesses to certain behaviours and patterns we might not notice at first, so look to people who will be able to support you with your anxiety without judgment. And we hope that this course has somewhat provided a space for you to look at and talk about your anxiety without judgment but instead with empathy and understanding. You have been so brave in facing your anxiety here, just by showing up. 

That being said, it’s time to say goodbye. We hope you feel you have gained something from this course, and that you feel less alone in your struggles with anxiety. While anxiety may seem like a solitary battle at times, you are not alone. We are in this together. And if you’re interested in signing up for a live Bloom course, head over to bloom.chayn.co. We hope to see you soon!

The homework for this week is… Please complete your triggers and techniques page and have it somewhere you can see it regularly. It might help also to write down a list of coping mechanisms. These can work as a reminder of all the work you’ve done, your dedication to yourself, and the skills you have within your remit to change what is difficult.

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