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Living with anxiety can be hard, especially when mental health issues are rarely acknowledged or even talked about in Hong Kong. Speaking from her own experience, registered mental health nurse Penny Vera draws from her own experience to speak up about this common issue, and how to deal with it.
From the outside, I like to think I present myself as a confident and very capable person who balances all sorts of priorities within my life. I am a registered mental health nurse and have years of experience supporting people to manage all different types of mental health problems – however, I am also someone who has anxiety. There are times when I feel so scared for no apparent reason, and sometimes, I am so fearful of irrational thoughts and beliefs that it takes all my willpower not to hide under the duvet (and sometimes I do!).
And so, the five techniques below are what I have learnt on my journey as a person with anxiety, a Mental Health Nurse, and a mother of a child who also gets anxious. Of course, different things work for different people, but by sharing them, I hope that they may help and work for you, or anyone close to you too.
1. Everything Passes
“This too shall pass…” – a little phrase you can repeat to yourself when anxiety hits. It helps to remind you that everything passes, everything changes, and that this state you are in right now, is not permanent.
First, breathe normally and slowly count up to 10 – this is a quick and calming exercise for when your thoughts begin to race around in your head. Then, take a breath in before slowly breathing out again. Try counting back from 10 to make sure you are breathing out slowly, but don’t worry about getting all the way back down to zero if it is too long. Instead, you can try counting backwards from four, five, or whatever number you feel works best for you.
Physical reactions to anxiety include sweating, a faster heartbeat (palpitations), nausea (feeling sick), headaches, and pains. By slowly concentrating on your breathing and getting some oxygen into your bloodstream helps your body to calm down. It’s also a great way of reconnecting my mind and body.
3. Reaching Out
Being around people you feel safe with really helps. Having contact with others helps you keep grounded and connected to other people’s lives.
It can help to reach out and speak to someone you trust, such as your friends, family, colleagues, or even your GP. Having someone listen to you and care about you can be a source of comfort and relief. Or you can call a helpline (such as The Samaritans) if you’d rather speak to someone who doesn’t know you.
If you were to ask a Mental Health Nurse their greatest technique in managing a mental health crisis, it would be the use of distraction. We can all find ourselves being too focused on something that’s worrying, sometimes to a point where we begin to shut everything else, including reality.
Distraction techniques can be something as simple as drawing shapes on paper, but choosing something that you love to do helps to absorb energy and gets you away from anxious thoughts. Some common distractions include things like walking, listening to music, painting, singing, talking, and playing board games. All very useful distractions for when fearful thoughts start to take over.
If you are brave enough to venture outside during your anxious moments, looking up to the sky and surrounding yourself with nature can help to ground you. Living in a place like Hong Kong, you can easily escape the hustle and bustle of the city by heading to one of Hong Kong’s many beautiful hiking trails. If you’re not so keen on hiking, even a quick visit to a nearby park can be helpful.
Spend a quiet 10-minute walk around the park or nature area, and retune your sense to the world around you. Look at colours in the sky, the trees and flowers, and listen for quiet sounds of the birds, the hum of the traffic, or the chatter of other people. Focus on each sound in turn, and smell the environment you are in.If your mind wanders back to your worries, take it back to focusing on your environment. This mindfulness technique may not work for everyone experiencing anxiety, but for some people, it helps to calm and soothe their mind.
Other techniques for managing anxiety include keeping a diary, setting aside specific time to work through your worries, and looking after your physical health. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well is really important too. But if you ever feel your anxiety is too difficult to manage on your own, then be sure to make an appointment to see your GP for help and support. There are treatments out there that can help.