WELLBEING COLUMN Simple ways to worry less and feel calmer.
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.