Practical tips for panicky people

Begone, post-lockdown anxiety! 👋

As lockdown continues to ease, I think many people (me included!) are experiencing feelings that we weren’t expecting. Many of us spent the last year living very small lives, barely leaving the house and certainly not travelling outside of our towns and villages. And now things are “going back to normal” (to an extent), it’s all a bit… overwhelming.

While some people have embraced the return to normality, others are anxious about doing things that used to be routine. I’ve been to the pub a good few times already and even managed to book a sneaky couple of nights away for later this month, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed an increased sense of anxiety when going out into the world.

It’s also worth noting that I’m no stranger to anxiety. With NHS-approved serotonin pumping through my veins and a mental map of just about every spot in the North East where I’ve had a panic attack, it’s fair to say I am an anxiety veteran. I was anxious before it was cool (in case it’s not obvious, that’s a joke).

So, whether you’re noticing a return of old symptoms or experiencing anxiety for the very first time, here are some things that help me:

Give yourself plenty of time to get places

If you’re returning to the office, heading for a client meeting or just going for a coffee with friends, leaving the house early will ease any anxiety about being late. If you arrive early, you will feel calmer and in control when your company joins you.

Tell the person you’re with how you feel

This was a game-changer for me. I used to suffer extreme anxiety and panic attacks, particularly at work. But then I realised one of the main recurring thoughts whizzing through my head was “but what will people think?” so, I just started to tell people: “Feeling a bit nervous today, just in case you wonder why I’m fidgeting!” or “I’m not feeling myself, I’ll be fine but I might pop out for some fresh air.”

I’ve never had anything other than a sympathetic response to this and, to make things even better, this always seems to significantly reduce my anxiety symptoms as I am no longer bothered about what they think.

Consider avoidance as a last resort

Back in the day, avoidance became one of my biggest coping mechanisms for anxiety. At least I thought it was helping me to cope, but eventually, I realised that it was, in fact, making me much, much worse. Determining the scenarios that make you feel anxious is just the first step towards overcoming the panic, but if you choose to avoid every anxiety-inducing occasion, you’ll be left with a long list of places you can’t go and an even bigger mountain to climb.

That’s not to say that avoiding a situation where you feel anxious is a failure. I’m a firm believer in self-preservation, particularly in terms of mental health. If late bars aren’t your thing then consider meeting your friends for coffee, if you feel stuck at a restaurant table then ask someone for a walk instead.

But, it’s vital to weigh up the long term impact of avoiding a situation - and asking yourself why you are avoiding it. If it’s simply something you don’t enjoy, then that’s fine - but if you are walking the long way to work because you once had a panic attack on the alternate route (me in 2014), then I recommend looking into getting some practical help, like a course of CBT.

Take it easy on yourself

You’re living through a global pandemic, and even though the numbers are improving and many of us are returning to our favourite social activities, we’re still far from “back to normal”.

And, of course, everyone is different - so I asked the Twittersphere to share what helps them get through periods of anxiety. Here are some of the responses.

If you’re struggling to find joy in something you used to love, or you’ve found yourself feeling anxiety for the first time in your life, try to remember that it’s completely fine. We’re in unchartered territory and there’s no right way to go on, so if that means you’re not ready to go out yet: that’s ok. And if it means you’re absolutely clamming on a pint in the beer garden: that’s also ok.

As long as you behave responsibly and consider other people’s safety at all times, you’re doing alright.

Have you been experiencing more anxiety since lockdown lifted? Let me know on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a little chat.

📚 Ruin and Rising (#3 Shadow & Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

No spoilers from me as this is the third and final book in a trilogy, so there’s not much I can say other than it’s a decent YA fantasy series.

📚 Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The new novel from the great mind behind Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising doesn’t disappoint. Great beach/backyard read - I inhaled it in just three days!

🎥 Bo Burnham: Inside (Netflix)

I only just watched this yesterday so I am probably not quite ready to give my full thoughts. It’s still sinking in. Comedian Bo Burnham spent the last year recording a special inside his own home, documenting his own mental health downfall and other bittersweet moments. It’s a journey, that’s all I’ll say.

📺 Starstruck (BBC iPlayer)

Rose Matefeo wrote and starred in this hilarious and light-hearted rom-sit-com. An easy watch and nice palate cleanser if you can’t stop crying after Bo Burnham: Inside.

That’s all from me this week, see you all next Wednesday for another email about mental health and working life.

Ellen x

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

3 June: Sciatica strikes back

26 May: Looking after yourself is hard

19 May: He just can’t decide

12 May: Getting titillated by the tangible

5 May: Taking it all in

28 April: Be a better cheerleader

21 April: The power of procrastination

14 April: How to sell without feeling icky

7 April: Am I a bad feminist for wanting to lose weight?

31 March: The rescue dogs that rescued us

24 March: Feelings are meant to be felt

17 March: I sent a newsletter every week for a year

10 March: I’m triggered