On Mental Health Awareness Week, Christina Neal reveals how to manage your emotions, reduce your anxiety and feel more positive about life and lockdown. 

Anxiety or stress is nothing new. Even before lockdown, there were approximately three million people in the UK suffering from a form of anxiety disorder. Globally it’s also an issue. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America claims that anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the US, with approximately 18 per cent of the population suffering from the condition. The World Health Organization claims that almost 300 million people have an anxiety disorder and calls to mental health charities such as SANE and Anxiety UK have risen by 200 per cent during lockdown.

None of this is any real surprise. Recent events have tested our mental reserves, and however positive you are as a person, it’s natural that you may have had moments of fear, anxiety or worry. Fortunately though, there are some easy things you can do to improve your mood and make yourself feel happier. While we can’t always change our situation, we can learn to change our mindset and how we respond to things that happen to us. Here are some ways to remedy your mood and feel more content…

Change your physiology

Life coach Tony Robbins recommends changing your posture to feel better. A depressed person will normally have a slumped posture with their head down. Robbins suggests standing tall, drawing your shoulders back and speaking more rapidly. In this state, he claims, your actions and mood will be different. If you stand tall and breathe deeply for two minutes, Robbins says your cortisol levels will drop by 22 per cent and you will be 30 per cent more likely to take action. Try it and see.

List your accomplishments

Ask yourself what you are proud of. What accomplishments have you achieved in life that make you proud of who you are or what you have done? Who else is in your life that you are proud of? This will make you feel grateful and it’s hard to feel stressed when you feel gratitude.

Focus on what you want

It’s also important to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. When you focus on what you want, you take action that increases the possibility of achieving what you want. It will inspire you to take positive action which in turn, will make you feel happier.

Don’t think about the future

It’s important at this time to not think too far ahead. We can’t control what the next few months will bring. We can control our minds though. Mark Twain once said: ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened’. It’s true that we worry about things that don’t always materialise. If you worry now about what may happen in a few years’ time, your thoughts will be more likely to spiral out of control. You will weigh up what could go wrong. Feel calm again by focusing on what you are doing now and live in the moment.

Don’t try to problem-solve at night

Problems can seem much worse at night and if you lie awake trying to solve them, you’ll work yourself up into a frenzy of fear and anxiety. Mindfulness may help you to feel calmer at night, or you could write down your worries and how you will deal with them at least four hours before you to go bed. This will make you feel like you are taking control and will clear your mind, leaving you free to sleep.

Don’t put things off

Now is not the time to procrastinate. Don’t put things off until the last minute as this will raise your stress levels. If you have a task that needs to be done, get on with it now and you will feel a real sense of relief and accomplishment. Leaving important tasks to the last minute will only make you feel stressed and frustrated with yourself for putting them off.

Accept how you feel

It’s important to not be in denial about how you are feeling. If you feel anxiety or panic taking a grip on you, allow the feelings to wash over you. Accept they are there. Think of another time when this happened and remind yourself that you dealt with it and those feelings eventually passed.

Perfection is not needed

Don’t strive for perfection. Right now it’s easy to tell yourself you should be doing what so many other people seem to be doing, such as learning a new skill or getting creative. You don’t have to conform. We all deal with situations differently. Do what works for you and don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t feel the urge to embark on a new online learning course or take up baking. There’s no right or wrong.

Interact with positive people

While we have to socially distance ourselves from others, make contact with positive people and try to interact with them on a regular basis by phone, email or via video calls. There is an expression: ‘You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with’. While we’re not in a position to spend time with anyone outside our household right now, you may be interacting on social media with people who have a negative perspective. If you are constantly exposed to a negative attitude, it’s going to bring you down in the end. Try to interact with upbeat people who are positive about life after lockdown or who have felt that the situation has given them a chance to try new experiences. If you can, reduce the amount of time you spend on social media so that you can avoid being influenced by other people’s bad moods.

Exercise and eat well

Finally, the benefits of exercise for boosting mental health are well known, so exercise regularly and you’ll notice an improvement in mood post workout. The mental health charity Mind recommends exercise for treatment of mild depression and endorphins are released during exercise that make us feel good. Try to eat a fairly healthy diet. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a few treats but try to put nutritious food on your plate most of the time and your body and mind will thank you for it.