Reducing anxiety by organising your interior structure
Since December 2019 there has been a significant increase in people searching the term 'anxiety' on the Hypnotherapy Directory website. It is worrying and we could dwell on the reasons why, it is however more beneficial to be proactive and take control of any aspects of life that we can and reduce the feelings of anxiety.
As I speak with people that are currently struggling with their mental health, I notice that a lot of what they describe is overwhelm and lack of control. We are all currently in a situation where we cannot do what we normally do. Even those that choose to spend a large part of their time at home are left without choice. Much like trauma we are hitting our heads against brick walls as we find ourselves in a position, regardless of opinion, where we cannot do anything to change the situation. We cannot get rid of COVID-19, neither can we change the law, so we sit helplessly overwhelmed not knowing what is going to happen or what we can do.
Every person is an individual and their problems unique. When lots of people describe the same feelings, it is unusual and more likely an external problem rather than internal. Yesterday I worked with three people with whom I shared the same tool, an amazingly simple technique that I can share with you too. When the external world is inconsistent you can find peace by taking control of your internal world.
Start by writing a list of the things you want to do in your week and how often you want to do them. When I spoke with Claire yesterday, we finished with a list that looked like this.
- horse riding; 3–4 times a week (3hrs each time)
- studying; 10 hours per week
- yoga; 2–3 times per week (30 minutes each time)
- meditation; 10 minutes a day
- walking; 3–4 times per week (1hr each time)
- have a bath; daily (1hr)
- spend time alone; daily (1hr)
With all these activities swimming around in her head it's no surprise that Claire is feeling overwhelmed. External forces have completely changed her life, her normal rhythm, and the places she visits. In 1956 psychologist George Miller wrote about the magical number seven. He stated that most people can remember seven plus or minus two things. This means that Claire is likely to be able to remember the seven things that she wants to do throughout her week.
Without structure they are likely to flick around her head as she struggles to remember each one. When she feels energised, she tries to pack in as much as possible, this often leaves her exhausted and physically unable to do anything for a while after – yet her mind will still whiz around the ideals, leaving her mentally exhausted too.
I sent Claire away with the instruction to write a weekly plan that includes all the above activities with lots of transition time. Having a weekly plan written down allows Claire to stop thinking about when and how she will fit everything in. This will remove a big chunk of worry from her overwhelmed mind. The transition time will prevent anything from being rushed so that she does not become physically exhausted and the diarised self-care will ensure better mental and physical well-being.
I often look back to a conversation with a friend about our house cleaning routine. Whilst I try hard these days to be more mindful, at the time I viewed cleaning as a chore. I preferred to complete all my cleaning on one day so that on the other six days I felt chore free. My friend preferred to do a small amount each day so that she only ever cleaned for a short amount of time, but it was part of her day-to-day life. We both got the necessary cleaning done each week but in unique ways.
Before you create your weekly timetable, consider yourself. Claire was originally planning to combine her study days with the day a lecture is published, rather than watch on replay. As a result, she will have to study on a Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. As someone who exhausts easily, we discussed whether letting go of the need to watch the lecture on the day of publishing and instead study on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday would ease her life.
When you design your timetable remember that you are doing it to ensure you feel mentally well. This is not a tool to increase productivity, unless you want it to be, rather to allow you to live your life free from unnecessary worry. Stick to your timetable for a week and see how you feel, if you need to adapt it, do so, it is a constantly evolving system that will change as situations change.