I have been a worry wart ever since my teenage years. Especially in my late teens transitioning to adulthood, whenever issues arose, I would be thinking of worst-case scenarios, over-preparing things and had a tendency to delay making ‘big’ decisions – basically magnifying catastrophes in my mind. These were some of the traits I exhibited which I thought were just unpleasant habits, yet acceptable behaviour that my family and friends were familiar with.
Only through a podcast that I was listening to enroute to work one day late last year by HBR Presents – Discussing Social Anxiety and Success with Morra Aarons-Mele and Clinical Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen – did I realise that I checked all the boxes for having General Anxiety disorder.
I was definitely surprised as this ‘diagnosis’ came rather unexpectedly. It had never occurred to me to have anxiety issues and never read much into my odd habits; it was out of mere curiosity in wanting to learn more about Social Anxiety and Success that I clicked on this podcast out of a sea of many interesting topics. Being an excessive worrier is, according to Dr Ellen Hendriksen, a component of anxiety. Though I have managed to navigate life without major issues, I reckon my quality of life would be substantially more delightful if anxiety and excessive worries were annihilated.
That said, I was also thankful that I could finally pinpoint the source of my problems and start working towards bettering myself.
It has only been almost a year, but much has changed. I am still working towards overcoming my anxiety and I would like to share five tips on how I reduce my anxious episodes.
#1 Keep a playlist of peaceful songs
I have a go-to playlist that I play if I need to concentrate or calm down, especially while studying, working on an assignment or before attending to a stressful situation. These tunes are generally slow, atmospheric music, or classical that do not contain any lyrics. Do not underestimate this genre of music – It always helps to put me in a more relaxed mood and concentrate better on tasks on hand.
As I grow older, I gravitate towards more peaceful music by lesser known artistes, forgoing top Pop Hits.
Playlist for Lo-fi beats for focus and relaxing: HERE
Instrumental playlist for studying and reading: HERE
This sounds like a no-brainer, but what a difference it makes! As a seasoned procrastinator, I usually leave assignments and errands to the eleventh hour as I always think ‘I have time’ and will do it later; only to forget my deadlines and frantically rush through them while my anxiety level goes off the charts.
This seems too familiar for it has happened one too many times. This year, in a bid to avoid such frantic situations at all cost, I implanted all of my quiz dates, examinations, important events into my planner and ensured that I record every detail. Leaving a physical note on your diary, planner or phone reminds yourself of your tasks without having to occupy extra space in your memory. Looking at your notes allows you to visualise how much time you have to complete your tasks as well without having to dig through your mental filing cabinet, eliminating all chances of yourself forgetting anything.
I am used to physical notes in my planner, but if you prefer to go paperless, Getplan.co is a virtual organiser and planner that helps automate your work life. You can create meetings, assign due dates to your tasks and create teams on it. How awesome! A great virtual planner for busy individuals to keep you on track with deadlines, especially with the ping function to remind you of your due tasks.
#3 Reach out
Since young, I always had a fear of being vulnerable in front of others in fear of judgment. But these days, I learn that speaking up about my worries to my friends and getting their input has really helped me in reducing a lot of pent up stress. And when doing so, I realise that anxiety does not just affect me exclusively and it reminds me that it is more common than I think.
I am sure that friends and family are willing to listen, as long as you speak up. Many times, I am also offered great advice too. So, why not?
#4 Do your best
Being overly anxious about things has led to haphazard work quality in many instances as it can be difficult to focus without having irrational thoughts looming in your mind. And usually once it is (haphazardly) done and submitted, I would think, “i should have done this…” and want to go back and do more.
I came across a quote recently that really sparked a change in my views towards work: ‘Doing your best should be the bare minimum’. It always comes in handy whenever I am feeling stressed out or frazzled, and impatient to finish things up.
But knowing that I have given my all and acknowledging that there is nothing more I can do, would give me a peace of mind and not constantly worry about going back and changing things. You know what they say: ‘Aim for the moon. If you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’
Nevertheless, this does not come easy without #2, Planning!
#5 Interrupt the worry cycle
According to Dr Hendriksen, uncertainty is what drives anxiety. True enough, it is difficult for me to tolerate any form of ambiguity, which leads to perpetual avoidance of new situations, getting friends to make decisions for me, or desperately searching for solutions to every single problem.
Getting excessively worried about ongoing ‘what ifs’ and ‘Did I mess up again?’ do nothing but overwhelm me and keep me from doing anything productive. I have since learnt to break out of the cycle and take a breather by slowing down and rationalising my thoughts.
It comes with a lot of practice, but the first step is to let go of things that are beyond my control. Taking some time off and going for a walk, or doing some exercise are some things that have really helped to keep my mind off worrisome things.
Coming back to face the problems after, usually changes my perspective and the situation I was worrying about two hours ago is not actually that terrible!
As a fan of the great outdoors and exercise, Runninghour is an awesome initiative that promotes integration of people with special needs through running. In view of COVID-19, Runninghour’s Run For Inclusion has included a virtual run option where you can attempt any distance of your choice while completing it remotely. What better way to relax and de-stress while supporting a good cause at the same time?
#6 Cut the caffeine
I would love a cuppa any time of the day. Oh, and coffee too! Caffeine provides us with the necessary energy boost to start our day but it causes some damage if I am not careful.
But stimulates our fight or flight response and can trigger a huge anxiety attack especially before a nervous event, like an examination or presentation. As tempting as the smell of coffee is to me, I try to have only one cup a day, or none at all to keep my anxiety at bay.
#7 Distract yourself by utilising your time meaningfully
After a long day or week at school/ work, most of us crave quiet time and just want to head home to ‘relax our mind’. However, I find that I might be subconsciously exacerbating my anxiety during prolonged periods of downtime, sitting around and scrolling through social media.
I was recently introduced to agoodspace.org, Singapore’s first cooperative that gathers a community of people who are eager to promote change to the world. As one who is passionate in gaining insight on social issues and supporting meaningful causes, this is a great platform to bring forth our ideas to contribute to a positive change, or to gain more awareness towards social issues.
Supporting charities and volunteering for the underprivileged have been on my agenda for a long time. Instead of allowing myself to be idle for an extended period of time, there are many communities which can benefit from my help. This could be a form of distraction for me; furthermore, helping others also makes us feel good about ourselves!
Worrying about something excessively although it has not happened yet, would be putting yourself through pain twice. All in all, the most important factor to me is to be mentally stronger, and remember that many things are beyond our control, like the way people behave, history and unforeseen events.
Thankfully, growing older has also helped to mellow my personality. Do you have any tips to help worriers? Comment down below!
Disclaimer: I have NOT been diagnosed by a doctor. If worrying or your anxiety has become something you cannot control, please seek professional help.
This article is brought to you by Hazel, an undergraduate from University of Newcastle Australia who is currently interning at SNCF (August to November 2020). She is an earl grey enthusiast, caffeine addict, avid reader and passionate about all things health and lifestyle related.