The ‘New Normal’ – is it normal to still feel anxious?

Over the last number of weeks and months we have all experienced huge amounts of change and uncertainty. For many this has provoked ongoing feelings of fear, anxiety, and concern.

Here are some simple but effective tips to help you to manage these anxious feelings.

Practicing the necessary daily habits of food shopping, going to work, visiting friends, and even getting out for a walk during an ongoing pandemic will naturally create feelings of worry and anxiety. With many areas of the country still experiencing periods of lock down, this ‘new normal’ feels quite the opposite of normal. Instead it feels unfamiliar and threatening, as many of us find ourselves thinking, how will I learn to cope with this ‘new normal?’

Acknowledging anxious feelings and using mindful techniques to break negative thought cycles will help you to manage change more positively, and build resilience for the months ahead.

Change, whether expected or unexpected, to our environment or routine often causes unease and anxiety because we are forced to move from a familiar and safe routine into an unfamiliar and potentially unsafe routine. Any threat to our safety triggers our fight, flight, or freeze response, a primal biological reaction which prepares our minds and bodies to run from or fight the looming threat. The effect of this response on our minds and bodies is often experienced as quickened heartbeat, sweaty or cold hands, tightness in our chests, and racing thoughts as our brain scours the terrain for predators. Anxiety like this can hijack our thoughts and feelings, sending us into a spin. 

Although these feelings can be frightening, it is important to remember that it is possible to move into a new phase of our lives while feeling anxious. 

Anxiety can become problematic, however some emotional and mental stress is part of daily life, and an expected part of our collective environment. We as people developed highly successful coping skills over time by reacting to and responding to stress.  In other words, not all stress is bad, having some stress is normal, what’s important is accepting, recognising, and managing that stress.

What can we do when these anxious feelings arise?

The first thing to recognise when trying to respond more positively to anxious feelings like this is that change is going to have an impact on our mental health. This impact however does not have to be negative.  We can take control to frame it more positively, and engage and build our resilience. 

The second thing to remember is that anxiety is a natural response to change, and the good news is there are tools and techniques we can use on a daily basis to ease this anxiety.

The third thing to keep in mind is that practicing stress reduction habits and techniques regularly can help us to cope when anxiety arises, reducing short and long term negative impacts on our mental health.

Most of us feel anxious during times of change and uncertainty.  Although it can be challenging, it is also a good time to develop our coping skills and build on our resilience.

So, as the country continues to experience change, bringing with it natural feelings of anxiety, here are some tips to help manage these feelings more positively.

1. Acceptance of anxious feelings

It is natural to feel worried during times of change and uncertainty.  As simple as it sounds, accepting that these uncomfortable feelings are there is the first step to managing them.  Instead of trying to ignore them or push them away, take a moment to notice the feelings when they arise, accepting that they are just a small part of this whole experience.  Acceptance of the feeling does not mean you are stuck with it.  It will actually help it to pass more quickly.

2. Thoughts and feelings will come and go, if we let them

Catastrophic thinking is very common during times of stress.  It means we fear the worst and imagine that we won’t be able to cope when it comes.

When you notice a negative thought cycle like this kicking in, divert your attention to something else.  Make a cup of tea, take a few deep breaths, play with a pet, or go for a walk and breathe in the fresh air. Shifting your focus away from negative thoughts, focusing instead on physical movement and activity, gives your mind a break.  This mental break gives you more capacity to think clearly and to imagine that you can cope with whatever happens.

3. Support and connections

Use your support systems and get in touch with friends and family to let them know how you are feeling.  You will probably find that others are experiencing something similar to you, and that you are not alone. Talking to someone you trust helps to clear your head and lighten the load.

A final thought…

Anxiety during times of change is natural.  Taking these small simple steps to learn how to accept and manage anxious feelings will help to change your experience from one that feels negative and overwhelming, to one that feels manageable, positive, and hopeful. Acknowledging anxious feelings when they arise, practicing simple stress reduction techniques, and using our support systems can help us to cope when anxiety arises, and give us tools and techniques for the future.