Hey, this is part two of a series looking at some common questions about anxiety. So if you're watching this thinking, "Actually, I didn't catch part one?" then do head over to beheadstrong.uk and you can catch up on the first part there.
But this time, I wanna talk about reassurance because I've had many questions about this. Like 'Why is it that when someone reassures me, it only stops me feeling anxious for a moment and then it just rises again?'. Or 'What do I do if my anxiety is so irrational that I can't just reassure myself to get out of the loop?'. Or 'What do I do if my friend is feeling really anxious and I don't know what to say to help them feel better?'.
So remember, anxiety is about your brain grabbing your attention to make sure that you focus on something that could be significant, that could be important, that could be leading to a bad outcome, that could need you to do something. And sometimes those things are over in a moment! It's like when you're walking down the street and a bear suddenly jumps out from behind a car at you (which is unlikely by the way, but let's say that happened), the whole moment can be over before you know it. You've had the trigger, you've thought, "Blimey, it's a bear," you've made a decision, "I think I should probably leg it." And you've done it, you've got yourself out of that situation. And it's over before you've even known it's happened.
But most modern anxiety is much more complex. So there's loads of uncertainty like, "Is this bad or isn't it? I'm not sure."
Or maybe it's just not that clear cut. You don't know how it's gonna play out. Things are going on over a much more extended period of time, it's not just about a moment. Like COVID is a really good example of that, of a season in life where there's question and risk and lots of stuff that's going on that could make you feel anxious. And sometimes those things are outside of your control. You can't just solve global pandemic and get rid of the cause of your anxiety, you've got to work out how to deal with it. Or maybe, some of those things are even good things, they're things you do want to do or you have to do, like exams, or going on a date, or a big change in your life that's exciting but also really making your anxiety flare up.
And in those moments, if we're not careful, we get caught in this round and round cycle where anxiety comes up so we reassure ourselves and it goes away for a second, but then it just flares up again and we have to do the same thing again, and then it flares up again and it's like round and round, and it feels like you're caught in a washing machine and you can't get out of that loop.
So how do you avoid getting caught up in anxiety like that?
You know, sometimes in life anxiety is escapable. If you're in a moment where something's going on that's challenging, or that requires something of you, or that really matters to you but isn't resolved yet, it's not happened, so you haven't done the exams, you haven't got the results, it's not sorted yet. You will have seasons where you have to effectively learn how to emotionally press the reset button on your smoke alarm: how to just switch your anxiety off. It's like every time it rises up, just reminding your brain, "This is okay, I've got this."
But it's about reminding yourself of the why, not just saying, "Go away, go away" and distracting yourself or suppressing it. It's saying, "Actually, I've got this because actually I am studying hard". Or, "This situation is under control". Or, "I've already spoken to someone about this”. Or whatever it is, it's reminding yourself that you are taking the actions you need to do. This isn't something that you've forgotten about or haven't paid attention to. And just reminding your brain of that each time it brings the anxiety up.
And of course, remembering that the more we keep our baseline stress low, the more bandwidth we'll have for managing that anxiety. So finding moments where we can think, we can relax and forget about the stresses of life just for a moment and escape them and get away so we can sustain our energy throughout that season.
But sometimes the thing we've got to focus on is the right kind of reassurance. You know, in general, human beings don't like feeling out of control, that's very anxiety-provoking. But you're probably more in control than you feel. So think about the things that you can do to manage whatever's making you anxious, to feel more in control. Like studying, or making good decisions about how you do something like studying. Making a revision timetable, ticking things off a list, making sure that you've brainstormed anything that you might need to do and then making some good decisions about actions that you could take in this moment where maybe the biggest situation isn't immediately resolvable.
In fact, anything you can do to get a thought out of your mind and onto paper, that will help because it stops your brain feeling like it has to constantly bring them to the surface to make sure you don't forget about them. It's like, once you've written them down, it releases your brain from some of the responsibility for a bit. So think about journaling, keeping a notebook by your bed in case there's stuff that comes up when you're trying to sleep. Making a list, ticking things off, Post-it Notes on the wall. Anything you can do like that will help you to manage anxiety.
And if someone else asks you for reassurance, remember that in those moments when anxiety flares up, our thinking minds don't work as well as usual. So instead of just dismissing their fears or just saying, "Well, don't be such an idiot, it's all fine," which might drop that anxiety for a moment but won't help them to manage it better, remind them why they know it's okay. So think about saying things like, "Yeah, I know this is tough but you've studied really hard, you've got this, you're really well prepared”. Or, "Yeah, I know you don't know how that conversation's gonna go but, remember, even if it's a disaster, I'm still here, you've still got mates who think you're awesome”. Or, "Hey, if the worst happens, then this is what we're gonna do, this is how you could handle it so you know that even in that situation you're gonna be okay".
And don't forget, sometimes we all need to be reminded that things are not as bad as they feel when anxiety has flared up. It can feel like the world has ended but, actually, it's not as bad as when you're in that panicked space.
So don't feel awkward with a mate about just doing something to break that anxiety cycle if you know they're in that washing machine space. Saying like, "Hey, it just feels like you're freaking out a bit right now and it's probably not as bad as it feels. Why don't we just go and grab some fresh air?" or, "Let's go grab a coffee" or "Let's go walk round the field" or "Let's just chat about something else for a moment until your anxiety level's dropped a bit and then we can talk about it another time."
Sometimes we can't change the stuff that's causing our anxiety, so don't forget you can always do other things to make yourself feel better or to help someone else feel better.
Here's a quick three top tips just while we're thinking about this.
Number one is exercise. It's a great way to work off that adrenaline rush. Go for a walk, go for a ride, grab some mates to kick a ball around. And exercise, if we work hard enough, so anything that's gonna make you sweat a bit and for at least half an hour, it triggers the release of something called endorphins which are your brain's natural stress busters and they drop anxiety and help you feel calmer.
The second thing is just getting outside. Going out into nature, it changes your perspective. Going somewhere where the thing you're worrying about feels less like it's the only thing going on in your world. So find somewhere with a view, go lie under a tree and watch the leaves or listen to the wind in the leaves. Listen to birds singing. Or if all else fails, just go somewhere where you can see the sky and watch the clouds or count the stars. All these things have been shown to help people feel less anxious.
And number three, don't forget to share. Talking with people helps your brain process stuff. And sometimes when anxiety is making it hard for you to think clearly, it really helps to have an outside perspective from someone who's less in that anxiety fog and who can think calmer, they can think clearer, and they can help you cope. Or they can just listen so that you know you're not managing it on your own.
Thank for listening, and if you've still got questions, there's a part three in this series coming where I'm gonna talk about the tougher end of anxiety. So that's about how do you know if you need help? What do you do when it's become a real problem? And how to manage panic attacks which are really common. So keep watching.