I think we can all agree at that 2020 was a tough year. Mental health took the forefront as we all had to adapt to a life of social distancing and not being able to see our loved ones. I’ve not had any mental health issues in the past, but last year I noticed my anxiety was spiralling out of control and causing insomnia.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt to help keep it under control. I hope they help you too if you are suffering from anxiety for the first time.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Or PMR for short. I learnt about this technique after working through an NHS mood self assessment. On completion I was referred to create a free account on Silver Cloud (sorry if you’re not from the UK). I learnt a number of techniques to relax but PMR stands out as an exercises that has had the most impact for me. PMR is the process of tensing and then releasing each of muscle groups in turn. By focusing on the sensation of tensing and releasing this relaxes the mind. Honestly, I thought it sounded silly at first, but I’ve been doing this every evening just before sleeping and it has helped me in a big way. You can try a guided PMR session with the link below.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
I was hesitant to add this to the list, but I should acknowledge this as something I’ve tried and stopped after two weeks. I need to place a big disclaimer that this should not replace conventional care. Speak to your doctor first which is what I did and they approved of me trying it for short term.
I’m sure experiences may vary, but I was fortunate to have a very patient and warming practitioner called Dr Zhang. We had a 45 minute consultation discussing my background and symptoms, which I was prescribed a weeks worth of herbal tea for £49.
Here is what my tea was comprised of (Milletia Stem, Zedoary, Dittany Bark, Licorice Root, Red Sage Root, Pagoda-Tree Flower, Dittany Bark, Schizonepeta, Wool-grass Rhizome, Radix Rehmanniae, Chinese Angelica Toot)
The TCM didn't help much with my insomnia, but overall I did feel more relaxed after a week of taking it, this could possibly have been placebo. I did notice I was waking up feeling energised which was interesting.
Mindfulness via Headspace
I’ve tried multiple times to get into mindfulness and failed. Sitting still and trying not to think about anything is hard!
This time round I managed to make it stick by doing shorter daily sessions which last 10 minutes long. Previously, I was trying to force myself to do 20-30 minute sessions and failing. Like with any sort of exercise it gets easier if you practice it consistently.
The biggest revelation I have had since practising mindfulness, is that it’s not a technique to make unwanted feelings and emotions go away. In fact, it’s the opposite. Mindfulness teaches you to acknowledge those feelings when they arise and note them. The act of this can help break a negative spiral of your anxiety causing you to be more anxious.
I went from playing sports four-five times a week to practically doing nothing because of UK lockdown. I’m pretty sure this was a big factor that set off my anxiety. I felt like I had lot of excess energy in the evenings which meant I couldn't switch off and have a good night sleep.
My main sport were Ju-jitsu and Badminton which I had to stop and find something new. I decided to buy weights and practise strength training at home. In addition, I installed Strava and started a virtual running group with friends, and even on my rest days I will still go for a short gentle jog. When you’re working from home it’s easy to stay in your sweat-pants for days and never leave the house, however simply going outside for some sunshine is medicine in itself.
Switching Off Early
I love coding, it’s both my trade and my hobby. Building things and solving problems can be hugely addictive. More times than I can count, I would just have to fix this one last bug before switching off. The bug turns out to be a lot more complicated than I expected and then the next thing I know it’s midnight. This is obviously not healthy, nor a sustainable way to work, but I found myself in the situation far too often.
Discipline was key here. I had to simply set my self a rule to switch off my 7pm. I had to get my fiancee to shout at me and if necessary wheel me out of the study if she caught be coding after this time. Another small thing I did was set a reminder at 6pm to start winding down and not to start anything too complicated.
Cut The Caffeine
I’ve completely cut caffeine from my diet. I know this might be a no-go if you’re a coffee lover. For me personally, I was drinking coffee for the sake of drinking it. I’ve replaced it with herbal teas.
I’ve literally not had a bath since I was about five years old. Running a warm baths with a generous handful of Himalayan salts, then soak for about twenty to thirty minutes. Bliss. You wont regret it.
Noting Down My Worries
Another good tip I learnt from Silver Cloud was to physically write down your worries in a free form manner. I do this before my PMR exercises and I was surprised to find how much I was writing down. There were things I didn't realise that were on my mind until putting pen to paper. The act of writing these worries down offloads it from your mind.
Have you tried any of these techniques before? Did they work for you?
Is there anything not on this list that you think should be? Let me know in the comments.
Oldest comments (9)
What a fantastic read Alex. I cut caffeine completely out of my life also, it fees like it’s one of those things that too potent for me. Talking about your worries is also a good one, even if nothing comes of it, someone once said to me that most women talk about their issues even if there is no immediate solution, but men don’t, if they don’t see a solution or if the person they are talking too can’t solve it then they don’t see the point.
Yes great suggestion, the act of talking through your worries can often lead to your solution. I do this with solving technical problems at work. I should I also apply it here too.
A wonderful article - thanks for sharing this Alex. Some fantastic things to try here!
I think we all can try some of these out and do some experimenting - especially now more than ever. I'll be trying some myself.
Thanks Jayne! It's a list that been growing over the last few months. Feel good to share it in public.
I am sure this could help me and I am sooooooo scared of the idea. I've become way too dependent on caffeine. I also love the ritual, and have a great coffee maker.
haha yeah. Yeah I can imagine this might be the hardest one to try for some people. If the ritual helps then there is no reason to stop :D
Totally, there is nothing better than the smell of strong coffee in the morning ☕️
Yeah it's so nice. I would still be on caffeine if it didn't mess with my quality of sleep.
Thanks for sharing this Alex, such value in those words.