WELL­BE­ING COL­UMN Sim­ple ways to worry less and feel calmer.

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Har­riet Gri ey / Il­lus­tra­tion: Joanne Ho HAR­RIET GRIFFEY is a writer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor of over 20 books on health and well­be­ing. Read more from Har­riet on how to de-stress in her book I Want to Be Or­gan­ised (Hardie Grant, £7.99).

When you feel bom­barded by wor­ries, it’s time to take your foot o the gas and coast for a while

When­ever I see that slo­gan, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, it makes me smile. There’s some­thing about its prag­matic sto­icism that al­ways re­minds me to pause and take a mo­ment to just breathe. Printed on one of three posters by the Bri­tish Govern­ment’s Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion in 1939, to be cir­cu­lated only if we were in­vaded, it resur­faced in a sec­ond-hand book­shop in Northum­bria as we hit the 21st cen­tury and seemed to strike a chord.

One of the prob­lems to­day is that we are in­vaded – not by for­eign troops, but by cir­cum­stances that feel out­side our con­trol – from the num­ber of emails that tum­ble into our in­box, to the daily as­sault of news and doom mon­ger­ing in our feeds. A re­cent sur­vey by the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia es­ti­mates that we are bom­barded with 34GB of in­for­ma­tion a day, twice as much as 30 years ago, and o ce work­ers are in­ter­rupted on av­er­age ev­ery three min­utes. No won­der it some­times feels as if we are on a tread­mill try­ing to keep up.

Dur­ing the war, there was a col­lec­tive worry that bound ev­ery­one to­gether. Ev­ery­one was in the same boat, but in­stead of throw­ing our pin­nies over our heads and wail­ing, ev­ery­one was just go­ing to have to keep calm and carry on. And this isn’t a bad premise when we are in­vaded by wor­ries, too. Just putting one foot in front of the other, do­ing what we can un­til the mo­ment or the cri­sis passes – as it al­ways does – has a lot go­ing for it. How­ever, some­times a speci c worry be­comes so di used and un­fo­cused, as­so­ci­ated with stress, fear or even grief that it be­comes in­ter­nalised and ru­mi­nated upon, un­til it’s a con­stant com­pan­ion and trick­ier to man­age, giv­ing rise to per­sis­tent, un­der­min­ing self-doubt that erodes our con dence. In this way, wor­ry­ing be­comes a re­lent­less, de­fault mode: we are in the worry cy­cle.

In re­sponse to th­ese wor­ry­ing thoughts, we can re­act phys­i­cally, as if we are un­der threat. Our bod­ies pro­duce more of the stress hor­mones cor­ti­sol and adrenalin – the fright, ight, ght re­sponse. In ex­cess, th­ese hor­mones in­crease our breath­ing and heart rate, keep­ing us in a con­stant state of red alert, which can be great in the short term, but ter­ri­ble when it be­comes chronic. Once tipped over into the worry cy­cle, we be­come jit­tery and ir­ri­ta­ble, and it a ects our sleep, diges­tion and gen­eral well­be­ing, mak­ing it even less easy to man­age an ini­tial worry.

The worry cy­cle is a very easy trap to fall into when we try to be all things to all peo­ple. It can be ex­haust­ing and it can take some­thing speci c to call at­ten­tion to it. For me, it was when my son looked at me and said: “You’re Mrs Worry, aren’t you mum?” I knew that this was not a good ex­am­ple to set and that I needed to make a change.

What can you do to es­cape the trap? Firstly, recog­nise it for what it is – a cy­cle of un­fo­cused worry rather than, say, chronic anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion (although it can some­times lead to this). Take your foot o the metaphor­i­cal gas and coast for a while, to al­low your in­ter­nal re­ac­tions to calm down. Can­cel any un­nec­es­sary de­mands if you can and avoid peo­ple who make you feel anx­ious. Learn to say no, po­litely but em­phat­i­cally, to things that stress you.

Prac­tise JOMO – the joy of miss­ing out! – and do what makes your heart glad. Fac­tor in some ex­er­cise to shake o that mus­cu­lar stress, such as yoga or walk­ing. Make sure you eat reg­u­larly and keep well hy­drated. Go to bed at a reg­u­lar time and try to re­lax for an hour be­fore you sleep. In time, all this will pay o as fruit­less wor­ry­ing be­gins to sub­side, mak­ing life bet­ter for you – and ev­ery­one else. But re­mem­ber, it takes a lit­tle while to re-set af­ter a cy­cle of worry, so bear that in mind and prac­tise a lit­tle pa­tience and gen­tle­ness, too.

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