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This section describes the different ways you can look after yourself in managing your anxiety.

It’s up to you which ones you choose to try. What works for each of us will be different. Try a few different ways to see which ones feel right for you.

The ways we can nurture ourselves include:

  • talking openly to people who you feel understand you
  • looking after your health
  • participating in a hobby or other activities, to help ensure a balance between our work and leisure time
  • finding a solution to the things that cause anxiety where possible
  • relaxing
  • finding ways to interrupt anxious thoughts.
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Talking

When we were growing up, we may have learnt to keep our feelings and concerns inside. While this can be necessary at times, it can also keep you alone in your anxiety,and without a chance to grow new helpful ideas or share your experiences to feel less alone.

One way to express our feelings and concerns is to talk with someone in our life we trust. This can be a partner, a friend, a parent, sister, brother, or other family member, or a friend of your family.

Find someone that you feel:

  • you can trust
  • will listen to you
  • accepts you as you are
  • won’t judge you
  • may offer suggestions, but won’t tell you what to do.

Just starting a conversation with the right person can quickly bring you some relief.

Multiethnic young friends enjoying together

Expressing yourself

When we experience anxiety, it can help to express our thoughts and feelings. That way, we can feel less alone, and get help and support, or sort our thoughts and feelings out in a positive/helpful way. There are different ways to do this. One way may work better for you than others. We have listed some ideas, but you may have your own way of expressing yourself.

Write in a journal

You can write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal or notebook. This helps to let out our thoughts and feelings. You can write in your journal whenever you need to; this could be when you notice particular anxious thoughts and feelings, or maybe every day, once or twice a week, or once a month. It’s your choice; do what works for you.

You can find some tips on how to get started here.

Keep in mind:

  • you want to feel safe and comfortable enough to write your true feelings, so you can keep your journal private unless YOU choose to share it
  • you can choose how you want your journal to look – buy a ready-made journal, decorate it, or create a new journal yourself
  • be as honest about your feelings and thoughts as you can. Try to express what you are feeling in any moment, but without becoming overly self-critical or spiralling into negativity. Look up some information about structured journaling to protect yourself from ruminating.

Be creative

Being creative and making things is another way to express ourselves. This could be by writing stories, drawing, painting, gardening, knitting, sewing, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, cooking … any way that we choose to create. It helps us let go of the feelings and thoughts, as well as distracting us from them. We may also feel satisfied with what we’ve created.

Looking after your health

We may have been trained to put the needs of others before our own. To be able to care for others, we need to look after ourselves.

We can forget to look after ourselves when we feel anxious. This is an important time to be aware of what you are eating and how much exercise you are doing. When your wellbeing improves, it can have a real effect on your mood and anxiety.

What we eat and drink

A healthy, balanced diet helps our body to get the full range of vitamins and nutrients it needs to stay in good health, both physically and mentally. The more balanced a diet you have, the better you’ll feel. Research shows that healthy foods have a positive relationship to our anxiety, whereas consuming things such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol can increase anxiety.

A balanced diet means eating foods from the five main food groups, which are:

  • fresh fruit
  • fresh vegetables
  • wholegrain breads and cereals
  • lean meats and chicken, eggs, fish, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt).

We also need to include water as our main drink.

While vegetarians can usually quite easily find non-meat sources of iron and protein, vegans need to pay added attention to their diet to ensure they not only find other sources of iron and protein, but also calcium from non-dairy sources.

Be active

Being active helps to get the feel-good hormones circulating in our bodies and helps to release anxiety. Every day for about 30 minutes, try to do something active that you enjoy, such as walking, going to the gym, riding a bike, jogging, kicking a ball with friends, swimming or gardening.

Visit our Emotions and healthy living page for more information on how healthy eating and being active can help with managing anxiety.

Alcohol

Many people like to use alcohol as a way to help them relax, or as a reward – a ‘knock-off drink’ – at the end of the day. But general health advice is to:

  • drink no more than two standard drinks on any day
  • drink no more than four standard drinks on any occasion
  • alternate your alcoholic drinks with glasses of water
  • aim to have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Any higher levels of drinking than that is considered high-risk drinking. This carries both short and long-term health risks, both physical and emotional. The evidence linking risky alcohol use to problems such as depression and mood changes is clear. Once the effect of alcohol wears off, it can actually make you feel more anxious. So, cutting down your alcohol intake – or avoiding alcohol completely – may be a big help for you in managing your anxiety. Talk to your doctor about it if you think this might be right for you.

For more helpful information on women and alcohol, visit our Alcohol and healthy living page.

Nicotine and illegal drugs

It’s important to state from the outset that there is no safe level of drug use. The use of any drug –, whether it’s a legal drug such as nicotine in cigarettes or an illegal drug such as cannabis or ketamine – always carries some risk. While nicotine isn’t recognised as an anxiety-inducing drug, it is highly addictive, so not being able to access cigarettes when you want can increase anxiety.

Illegal drugs can significantly affect how we think and feel, and as they are not regulated, their strength can vary a lot, making their effects highly unpredictable. Heightened anxiety can occur during a single use, or while coming down, or as a result of dependence – along with a host of other mental and physical problems.

Not using drugs is one way you can manage your anxiety. Help to stop using cigarettes and drugs is available. See our page on Giving up smoking.

You can talk to your doctor in confidence about finding ways to stop using illegal drugs.

Woman sleeping nothing better than a lie in

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is as important as healthy eating and exercise for protecting your mental health, physical health and quality of life. Whatever your age, getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways of staying happy and healthy, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. While we each differ in how much sleep we need, most adults need 7 – 8 hours every night. Yet sleep disturbance is very common, affecting 90% of people at some point in their lives. Insomnia – when you have trouble getting to sleep and/or staying asleep – affects twice as many women as men. Hormone fluctuations – particularly during midlife and menopause – are a common cause of sleep disturbance for women.

Not getting enough good-quality sleep can be frustrating and seriously affect our quality of life, making concentration hard and our anxiety worse. However, good sleep habits – such as having a regular bedtime, keeping mobile phones out of bedrooms and avoiding caffeine late in the day – can help enormously.

For more information on sleep and good sleep habits, visit our page on Sleep and fatigue.

More information available at the Sleep Health Foundation.

Three women lining up doing yoga

Participating in a hobby or other activities

When we have somewhere to go and a place where we feel welcome, safe, and relaxed, it can distract us from anxious thoughts and feelings. Feeling connected to other people, and spending time engaged in enjoyable activities with them, is also a proven tonic for good mental health.

You can choose a hobby, a goal to pursue, or an interest you may enjoy, such as:

  • a sport such as tennis, cricket, golf, basketball, soccer, or bowls
  • an activity like yoga, tai chi, stretching classes, weight classes, or dancing
  • a hobby such as painting, drawing, knitting, sewing, gardening, or reading
  • joining a club, such as a book or movie club
  • becoming a volunteer in your community – you can help out at the local school, church, or sporting club or there are organisations that help people to volunteer such as Go Volunteer.

Finding a solution to the trigger of our anxiety

We can explore ways to solve what is contributing to our anxiety. There are eight steps for us to follow.

  1. Write down what we are anxious about.
  2. Write down some things we could do to handle what we are anxious about and help the anxiety to reduce or go away.
  3. Go through each of our ideas from the previous step. For each one, ask ourselves:
    • What do we need to do to try out this idea?
    • What obstacles might we face in trying out this idea?
    • Do we think the idea will really help?
    • Are we willing to try out this idea?
  4. Pick the idea we like most.
  5. Plan how we can try out this idea.
  6. Try out this idea.
  7. Ask ourselves if the anxiety has reduced or gone.
  8. If our first idea didn’t work, we can try another one.

It can also help to talk over these steps with someone we trust and who might have ideas too.

African mum with daughter meditating

Relaxing

Relaxation and mindfulness techniques can help us to feel calm and reduce anxiety. They slow down heart and breathing rates, reduce blood pressure, and decrease muscle tension. They help us to focus on the present moment.

There are different ways you can relax, including:

Progressive muscle relaxation

This is about learning to feel the difference between tension and relaxation in your body. Then, you can notice the first signs of tension in your muscles and relax them. When your body feels relaxed, it can help your anxiety lessen.

  • You need to tense and then relax all of the different muscle groups in your body, such as your leg muscles or shoulder muscles; or
  • You can focus on what you feel in each part of your body and notice where the tension is. The neck, shoulders and head are common stress points.

This video shows how to do progressive muscle relaxation:

Deep breathing

Deep breathing requires us to focus on breathing in and breathing out:

  • We need to focus on our breath moving in and out of our nose.
  • When we breathe in, we draw energy into our body.
  • When we breathe out, we let go of tension in our body.
  • Deep breathing can be done anytime, anywhere.

This video shows how to do deep breathing:

For more information on relaxation, visit our page on Relaxation.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is basically about paying attention to what’s going on right here, right now. To do this, we need to:

  • Breathe deeply and take notice of what’s around us. Be interested and curious.
  • Try to notice what you:
    • see
    • hear
    • smell
    • feel
    • taste.

This video shows how to use mindfulness:

Yoga, relaxation, and meditation classes can help with both relaxation and deep breathing. There may be a group at your local neighbourhood house, library, or YMCA.

Read more about relaxation, including a video and podcast exercise on mindfulness.

Finding words to replace anxious thoughts

When we have anxious thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “This is going to be awful”, we can think of other words to replace them to help reduce our anxious thoughts. It can help us to have specific words to focus on.

The words you choose need to be words you use regularly and are important to you. The words focus on what you want to happen. When you say the words, you need to try to feel them.

From the list below, you can choose one or two statements, or make up your own. Repeat the words at least seven times each day. You can repeat the words when you remember to, or when you notice the signs and symptoms of anxiety.

  • I am okay
  • I can do this
  • I am peaceful and at ease
  • I am calm
  • I have the strength to deal with anxiety
  • I let go of anxiety
  • I am strong
  • I am dealing with anxiety
  • My anxieties are thoughts, not reality
  • I am letting go of all I cannot control
  • I am accepting of my anxieties – they are just thoughts.
Last updated: 18 March 2020 | Last reviewed: 29 February 2020

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