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  • Writer's pictureLoen Miles

Back to normal, what's normal?



Welcome to the 'new normal', well, the new normal for now. In a few months I'm pretty certain there will be a new, new normal, and then another thereafter... right up until we get back to the old normal, what ever depth of old normal that may be!


It's great to be able to socialise a little, get back out there and be relaxed again isn't it?


For many of us the excitement may make us a little giddy, but for some who I've spoken to over the past few months, that family bubble has been a sanctuary, a safe haven of good health, time with loved ones, space to reflect and absorb the sun-rays we've been blessed with since lock-down. The thought of going back out there, coming face to face with the world again, and perhaps even with the virus can be utterly terrifying.


So, I thought today I would share my mind-settlers with you, the tools I have been using for some years that work for me and I hope can also work for you. I struggle with anxiety. I have done on and off for many years, and this was exacerbated five years ago when I became a mother and my hormones shook my world!


I have therefore over my lifetime been interested in finding ways to manage anxiety, calm physical reactions to fears and settle a racing mind. I have always been interested in the human brain, since before any anxiety took hold. I studied Psychology, then Sociology at University, I've since maintained a keen interest in people and their minds, and likely I will always have a passion for this topic. Along this journey I have found many tools and techniques for helping people in anxious situations. I share some of those I have found most useful below.


Centring

When I first entered in to the learning and development field, I'll be honest, I was petrified of standing up in front of people! Centring was one of the first new skills I learnt to overcome the shear panic I experienced (which made me dizzy, breathless, shake - which showed in my voice - and sometimes I even got tunnel vision). If you find you start to experience feelings of panic when thinking about COVID, lock-down easing, or when you're out in public, try this and it might well work for you. Centring helps by focusing on your core, it helps control your breathing which is one of the key issues with panic and anxiety panic states. Try searching for Centring on the internet - there is a plethora of information out there if you're interested in trying it.


Visualisations of calm

Another skill I learnt many years ago - when I went for hypnotherapy treatment for arachnophobia - was positive anchoring. This is a method by which you anchor a point on your body (on your hand for example) and while touching that point, when you're completely relaxed, take yourself back to a place in your past when you felt really safe.


This can help when anxiety starts to take hold of your thoughts, by touching that point on your body, the anchor, your brain can automatically take you back to that safe place and you receive the feelings that sense of safety gave you - this in turn automatically calms both your physical and emotional reactions to situations.


My place was a beach in Thailand, I recall the warm breeze drifting over my body as I laid on that beach in the beautiful Thai sunshine - one of my happiest and most relaxed memories. My anchor point was my right knee! When overcoming arachnophobia I would hold my right knee with my right hand - it was a little less easy to jump to holding my knee when I was stood up, hence why I recommend a point on your hand, you look a little less odd when calming yourself in public places!!


I recently learnt that there are a number of times a day when we ourselves are in a hypnotic state - when we wake up in the morning, just as we fall asleep at night, but also when watching TV or reading a book, we can fall into a state of hypnosis.


There are a couple of reasons why I mention this. The first is that focusing on your 'safe place' just after you wake and just before you sleep will help you fix your physical touch-point and your safe space in your subconscious. Therefore it's likely to work better for you if you choose to try this method. Basically, you don't need professional hypnosis to get you into that state.

Secondly, be aware that if you read or watch too much about COVID-19, or too many things that put fear into you about the situation, your unconscious brain will absorb this and impact negatively on your anxieties. Try watching light-hearted things on TV, and reading positive stories. You may well find this helps alleviate some of that fear and tension.


Stand back and take control

You may well have heard of the Circle of Influence and Control, given to us by Stephen Covey - I've certainly seen it a lot on social media recently and I've even shared it a few times myself.


I love this model, literally love it! I have used it almost every day since I first learnt about it many years ago from a wonderful trainer I'm still lucky enough to know by the name of Wendy. Wendy shared this model with me as I was getting really frustrated with people infighting at work and I wanted to solve all their issues, but this tool can be used for countless things, including COVID-19 anxieties. In a nutshell it separates out those things you can control, the things you have influence over and the things that are totally out of your control so you are then more able to let go of the things you can't control which in turn reduces anxiety and overwhelm.


To use this tool, simply draw out a small circle, around that a larger circle and around that an even larger circle. Title the central/smallest circle 'Control' and in it jot down all the things you have control over e.g. your behaviour, the words you use, your reaction to things etc. In the circle around that, title it 'Influence', and in it jot down all the things that are frustrating you (or scaring, worrying etc.) that you have influence over - consider what level of influence you have and what you can do to change it for the better e.g. I fear catching COVID, I can influence how likely I am to catch it by washing my hands, keeping a distance from others, wearing a face-mask (I know this is still questionable) and so on...

In the largest circle, titled No Control or Influence, jot all the things that are frustrating (scaring/worrying etc.) you and that you have no control or influence of. For these, there is nothing you can do to change them, so, where possible let go of them, release those fears and concerns and let them float away. Those fears do not serve you well, and the sooner you can let them go, the sooner you can get on with acting on the things you can influence and control.


Challenge your thoughts

Do you ever find your thoughts telling yourself all the negatives? How much, when your thoughts turn negative, do you balance those thoughts with positive or pragmatic responses? If your friend was talking to you the way your head does, what would you say to that friend?


It's likely you would encourage them to think about the positives, let them know it will be OK, challenge them to review how realistic they're being and ask where they got specific information from. If your friend said to you 'I can't cope with this, it's pointless', would you reply with 'That's because you're useless and the world is coming to an end!'? Or would you more likely respond with 'You can cope, you have more strength than you realise and it's not pointless, think about all the people you have around you who are here to help'?


Make sure you take a step back when your thoughts take a dive, and assess how real and how made of fact those thoughts are.


Take small steps out of your comfort zone

Fact. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more comfortable you become in stepping out of your comfort zone. Our comfort zones have become little family bubbles of safe sanctuary in recent months, and it's likely to take us some time to step out of those bubbles comfortably, but that we must if life is to move on.


One thing I would say here though is, do it at your pace and stepped up one or two notches. Once you have stepped out of that comfort zone once, reflect on what happened, what went well? what could be better? how do you feel having done it? And then tomorrow, do it again plus a bit more. Gradually you should find that you become more and more comfortable with stretching your own comfort zone and you become more and more able to cope with difficult and unusual situations.


As we move more and more towards the easing of lock-down and our new normal, we will undoubtedly all have times when we get a little overwhelmed. It's not a case of removing the feelings entirely, but more a case of coping with the changes that are happening.


In a world where a lot of unprecedented things in our lifetimes have recently happened, we have to return to some form of normality. We can't carry on in complete lock-down indefinitely, so rather than panicking about it, we need to find ways to cope and manage ourselves through it.


Be aware that while some may find it easy, others around us may experience those feelings I have mentioned above. We are a society. That means, to survive, we need to look out for each other, support each other and respond to others when they need us. If you have any other tools you have used/currently use to help with anxiety, please share them here and perhaps we can support others as they overcome and welcome in our 'new normal'.

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