What’s there to worry about these days? Well, I suppose there’s the pandemic that’s still doing its level best to take lives, destroy businesses, and send economies tumbling into recession. That’s admittedly a fairly compelling reason to be concerned. By now, our daily lives have changed so immensely that it’s getting hard to remember what things were like before.
If you’re not enduring a lockdown, you’re counting down the days until the next one comes along to send you back into extended solitude. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to keep a job throughout this despair-inducing year, you know how quickly things can change. How are you supposed to be optimistic? How can you do anything other than fear for the future?
This is the kind of thinking that you can fall into with remarkable ease, intensifying your anxiety and leading to redoubled negativity. It’s a vicious circle that can push you beyond the point of burnout, leaving you unable to focus on your daily routine.
But you don’t have to fall down that rabbit hole. You can take action to manage your anxiety and stress, even as circumstances conspire against you — and in this post, we’re going to set out five steps you can take to help yourself. Let’s get to them.
Focus on your sleep quality
When someone suffers from anxiety, it tends to lead to a reduction in the quality of their sleep: they lie awake at night because they can’t stop thinking about all the things they’re worried about. That doesn’t mean you should simply accept it, though — and often, if you don’t take steps to improve your sleep, it’ll get worse and worse until you can barely concentrate.
So how can you boost your chances of sleeping well?
There are plenty of things you can do, thankfully. You can start going to bed earlier, giving yourself plenty of time to fall asleep — that way, you won’t panic when you can’t get to sleep immediately. You can lower the light level in your room by installing blackout curtains and ensuring that all device lights are turned off. You can also try some white noise: having a fan run overnight can help you relax.
Take up some new hobbies
Staying occupied is extremely important for the mind. We’re not great at multitasking, after all, and it’s hard to feel overcome by anxiety when you’re busy thinking about something else.
If you can cultivate some new hobbies to absorb your attention and energy, you can achieve a huge reduction in your baseline stress level, and give yourself an outlet for when things get bad.
The obvious hobby for anyone who owns their home is DIY, which is why it’s become so popular during lockdown times. What do you think you’d enjoy and/or find satisfying? Repainting your walls? Putting up some shelves? Or maybe you’d like to learn how to play a musical instrument, or learn a language.
You have plenty of options, but you need to pick something that you can really get your teeth into. If you choose a hobby that you can’t pursue on a regular basis (like a team sport, for instance), then it won’t be there to pick you up when you need it.
Get a light therapy panel
Just as you need to eliminate light at night, you need to maximise it during the day, because it plays a massive role in regulating wakefulness.
Now that the winter is approaching, it’s even more important to use artificial light in the right way — and that’s what light therapy is all about. By getting a simple lighting panel and using it first thing in the morning, you can make it easier to start your day, raise your energy level, and significantly improve your mood.
There are plenty of viable light panels on the market, so you have options, but you should ensure that you get something that outputs 10,000 lux or more. You don’t need to have the panel running all day (and shouldn’t do that since it’ll waste electricity), but if you ever find yourself feeling low during the afternoon, you can power it back on.
Exercise on a regular basis
If you don’t view exercise as a rewarding hobby, you should at least view it as a utility, because it’s a core component of a healthy life — and physical health ultimately has a massive effect on mental health.
Walking is the perfect form of exercise for these times. Wherever you live and whenever you can get out, you can find a reasonable walking route and stretch your legs.
The gentle rhythm of walking will soothe your mind and build up some rewarding physical fatigue without the risks that accompany more high-intensity exercise. Of course, if you want high-intensity exercise then you can certainly add that to your routine. Just pick whichever exercises you prefer and make a commitment to them. It’s so much harder to be anxious when you’re exhausted after an intense workout, and you’ve got all that lovely serotonin coursing through your body.
Come up with viable goals
Are your days bleeding together at this point? That’s to be expected. Without social events and other cultural milestones out there in the world to give us context, every week can start to feel the same, and it makes it hard to be motivated. It also provides the feeling of being stuck in a rut with no way to escape — and we humans need to be able to look ahead.
But you can look ahead, still, regardless of what’s going on in the world and in your life specifically. You can still set goals and pursue them. You just need to be smarter with the goals you choose.
Instead of planning something that you can’t be sure about (like a trip overseas), identify something that you can accomplish from home (like creating a personal website, or cooking a five-layer cake, or sewing a bobble hat) and go after it. Setting small goals and knocking them down will give you the feeling of progress that you so badly need.
You can’t just snap your fingers and stop being stressed during the pandemic era, but there are things you can do to make yourself feel better. Use the suggestions we’ve set out here and you’ll be feeling more optimistic before you know it.