Before lockdown were you a social butterfly? Maybe not, but still you enjoyed going for drinks with friends and thought nothing of going to the hairdressers. You have spent 12 months looking forward to things going back to ‘normal’ and now there is a light at the end of the tunnel and soon we will be able to do all the things we have longed for. Now the excitement from the announcements has subsided you are faced with the reality of going out again, and now you aren’t so sure. Just like a lot people, you are feeling anxious about going out again.
You are not alone, although it is too soon to have any data on anxiety related to lockdown easing, there is plenty to suggest the Coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on our mental health as you can see in the below graph from ONS
Anecdotally, many of my friends and family have expressed concerns around socialising again, feeling worried or anxious about being in social situations. These anxieties range from getting used to larger groups again, being in close contact with service professionals and just generally leaving the house.
If any of this is true for you, if your stomach churns at the idea of going for a meal, if you break out in a sweat at the thought of going to the hairdresser or your breathing becomes shallow and fast just thinking about going clothes shopping; then I am going to guide you through how you can prepare your mind right now to make these things not only easier, but fun again!
- Change how you describe feeling anxious
The founder of Rapid Transformational Therapy®, Marisa Peer, told me a story about two fabulous interviews in a popular music magazine. One was with Bruce Springsteen and the other was with Carli Simons. In the Springsteen interview, he was asked a question along the lines of how he is still touring at his age and giving 150% on stage. He explained that it is like a life-force to him. Before he gets on stage he is so EXCITED. His breathing quickens, he has insane butterflies like they are trying to escape, his heart rate increases and he is literally vibrating with energy. He can’t wait to get out on that stage.
Carly Simon was asked a question focusing on why she no longer performs live, and she responded that she would feel her heart rate and breathing get fast, she would feel sick with her stomach churning, and she just knew she was having a massive PANIC ATTACK.
Now go back and read those two descriptions of what it felt like to them both again, notice that they feel exactly the same! The only difference is what each person told themselves those symptoms meant. Your brain is like a sponge, it really doesn’t care if what you are telling it is helpful or unhelpful, it just soaks it up and believes it. From right now, start telling yourself these are feelings of excitement, it doesn’t matter if you feel like a fraud, because the mind doesn’t care if you believe it right now. The more you tell yourself you are excited, the more your brilliant mind will start to take it in and believe it.
2. Stop owning it and give it a new name
How do you refer to the feelings of anxiety you have? If you are constantly saying to yourself or others, “I would do the thing, if only it wasn’t for MY anxiety”?
When we possess anxiety (or any other condition) this way, we are making it part of us. We are saying that we want to rid ourselves of it, but also claiming it back – often in the same sentence. This contradicting talk doesn’t sit well in the mind, it can not handle conflicting beliefs, so it will go with the most familiar feeling that has had the most repetition and ‘air-time’ in our mind – usually the anxiety.
Once the anxiety is no longer part of you, it is much easier for your mind to let it go.
It is normal to feel some anxiety or worry in certain situations, it is an important emotion that keeps us safe when it is appropriate. It will continue to be appropriate for some time to feel a degree of worry around certain social or busy situations. This is what your body is supposed to do to keep you safe but this emotion has a spectrum.
There is a tendency in today’s culture to hyperbolise everything we feel. Nothing is fine anymore, it is awesome. We don’t have bad days at work, our jobs are killing us. We aren’t a little stressed out by are children, they are driving us crazy. These metaphors make for great story telling, but they aren’t helpful when we are talking to ourselves.
Remember, I mentioned the mind doesn’t care if what we are telling it is helpful or unhelpful, it just lets it in. Well emotive mental pictures like this are it’s favourite food and it will believe these emotionally charged words more than any logic, and worse than that, will start to make those images your reality.
So just as we assign a new word to the physical feelings, rather than exacerbate our language we also need to understate the words we use to describe our emotions as well. We may well feel highly anxious or that our children are driving us crazy, but if we flip that to the lowest possible denominator we left saying, “I’m a little nervous“, “I’m finding the children challenging today” or “I dislike my job”. We take the fuel out of the fire.
3. Do it anyway
Look ahead to when we can finally do these things, and picture yourself doing them. Picture talking to your friends and going out for lunch or whatever it is you are feeling nervous about doing again and when the time comes, do it.
Have you ever been getting ready for a night out thinking, “I can’t be bothered tonight” but then got out the door and had a wonderful evening? This is exactly that situation. Our minds like what is familiar and over the last 12 months we have made sitting on the sofa every night in our pjs by 8pm familiar. It is normal, natural and indeed expected that our minds have adapted and now the unfamiliar idea of going out seems a little worrying. By doing it anyway, time and time again, we are changing that wiring and making what used to be our every day lives, familiar again.
As always, if you feel you need further help with feelings of anxiety, please speak to your healthcare professional. I am not a doctor and this in no way replaces any medical advice you have received.
If you have other triggers around anxiety and would like to explore ways to help put these ideas into practice, hypnotherapy is a fantastic complimentary way to heal past trauma’s that have caused triggers for anxious thoughts or feelings in your mind. Please follow me to stay updated with my journey and reach out if you would like specific help and advice.