We caught up with psychologist, Annette Boden, to get under the skin of anxiety and why it can rear its head more at this time of year.
Why do you think the new year can trigger anxiety for so many people?
As an integrative psychotherapist, and wellbeing practitioner specialising in stress and anxiety management January is one of the busiest times of the year for me and there are a number of factors that make this a challenging time of year for people.
Anxiety relates to the sense of real or perceived threat and is triggered by external and internal stressors.
The festive holiday season is an emotive time that invokes high expectations of perfect relationships and a pause on the daily ups and downs of our everyday life. However, when the new year comes, it can be a time of high anxiety, with money worries and relationship problems at the top of the list – any pressure on relationships is often heightened by this time of year when we have spent more time with each other, spent more money than we normally would, and eaten and drank more than we normally would.
This impacts on the delicate balance of emotional and physical wellbeing and often leads to a surge of new years gym memberships, detox plans, and also anxiety.
People worry about their health- the excess weight put on over Christmas. Drinking more than normal which impacts on sleep quality, this in turn impacts on our choices in the food we eat and how we feel about ourselves.
Why do you think so many people suffer in silence?
I think people often suffer in silence for some time before acknowledging they are struggling with anxiety as culturally we strive to meet goals and targets, to be our best, and anxiety might be perceived to be a weakness- and yet it is a natural response to stress.
Quite often, rather than addressing our suffering, we battle on and suppress anxiety through poor coping strategies such as drinking alcohol as a quick fix, so the problem is masked. Also, comfort eating is often a poor stress response – ‘stuffing down’ difficult emotions and creating more problems.
Can you give some practical advice for people dealing with anxiety this January?
Some simple strategies for dealing with anxiety in January:
Goal setting -well it is new year after all!
- Step one- Become more mindful – recognise the need for change -look at all the areas of your life that you would like to improve on or are causing you some stress.
- Step two – make a choice to change old unwanted habits and set out your intention for self -care and positive change. It is a good idea to put this in writing.
- Step three – begin to take action with small but manageable steps- so, for example, if you want to be physically fitter in 2019- rather than joining a gym and trying to go every day, why not aim to walk for twenty minutes each day and spend time in nature. Practice self-compassion.
- Step four- continually review and tweak your intentions and goals month by month or week by week and work towards letting go of limiting beliefs and the strong voice of your ‘inner critic.
Research shows that by applying some simple mindful self-compassion strategies you can reduce anxiety and related symptoms.
What can we do to help prevent anxiety resurfacing?
Anxiety cannot be prevented from resurfacing as it is linked to an important safety mechanism to alert us to threat and danger. However, we can reduce the occurrence of anxiety and anxiety related symptoms that lead to unnecessary suffering with some simple steps to build emotional resilience and manage stress:
Here are some of my top tips:
Plan your time –make time for fun, family and friends
Pace yourself- create that work-life balance
Assert yourself – learn to say no. Don’t over commit
Get physically active – releasing mood- lifting hormones
Relax- we think most positively and creatively when relaxed
Learn meditation-this aids relaxation
Practice sleep hygiene- a good night’s sleep reduces many symptoms of stress
Focus on positive nutrition – a healthy diet leads to a healthy mind and body
Focus on all your achievements and all you are thankful for – at the end of everyday
If you find yourself suffering from an anxiety or panic attack, here is a simple and effective practice I teach on the mindful self -compassion course and share with my anxiety clients:
Soles of the feet
This is a very effective way to anchor your awareness in body sensation, especially when you’re upset and can’t calm yourself down.
- Stand up and feel the soles of your feet on the floor. Rock forward and back a little, and side to side. Make little circles with your knees, feeling the changes of sensation in the soles of your feet.
- When you notice your mind has wandered, just feeling the soles of your feet again.
- If you wish, you can begin to walk slowly, noticing the changing sensations in the soles of your feet. Noticing the sensation of lifting a foot, stepping forward, and placing the foot on the floor. Doing the same with both feet as you walk.
- As you walk, perhaps also noticing for a moment how small the surface area of your feet are, and how hard your feet work to keep your body off the ground. See if you can notice that with appreciation or gratitude.
- When you are ready, returning to standing.
© The Centre for Mindful Self -Compassion
Is there a link between nutrition and anxiety?
Certainly, eating foods that put stress on our physical well-being will have an impact on our mood and increase anxiety. These would include foods high in sugar and saturated fat. Foods that create an acidic inflammatory response in the body also create imbalance in the hormonal systems.
There is also increasing research showing a link between vitamin D deficiency and mood disorders such as anxiety.
Alcohol and caffeine are known to create anxiety responses in the body so reducing these is a simple but effective first step.
Eating a well-balanced rainbow (coloured fruit and vegetables) diet rich in alkaline producing foods and nutrient dense complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds ,lean meat and fish grains such as Oats and pulses such as lentils help to enrich the body with B vitamins and important mineral such as zinc and magnesium known to support a healthy nervous system and balance hormones.
Dark chocolate and bananas are a good source of magnesium.
Good sources of protein such as lean meat, fish, and nuts and seeds if you eat a predominantly plant -based diet provide amino acids which convert into mood lifting neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
Camomile is often recommended for calming anxiety.
Turmeric (curcumin) has been studied and shown to reduce anxiety and can be easily incorporated in to soups and smoothies and calming well-being drinks such as the wonderful “I am well” drink served at The Garden – this is a firm favourite of mine and I can hand on heart report anecdotally feeling a sense of well-being after drinking this 😊.
For further information and links to research, take a look at this article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322652.php
Where can I find further information:
You can visit Annette’s website at https://www.annetteboden.co.uk/
For more information about anxiety and anxiety related conditions here is the link to the UK’s leading anxiety charity www.anxietyuk.org.uk