Safety: The Antidote to Anxiety
Hong Kong is going through a time of uncertainty and confusion. Will we be going into lockdown? Will we be separated from our families? When will the borders open? What will happen to the economy? These questions can trigger fear as we experience a sense of helplessness and loss of control over the wellbeing of our loved ones and ourselves.
Our dread and anxiety happen at five levels - in our thoughts, feelings, body, actions, and social world. It is most effective reducing our anxiety by enhancing our sense of safety in all five of these categories. Here are some ideas on how:
Thought testing can be helpful to manage our feelings. Often, we get stuck on certain thoughts that come up time and time again, triggering anxiety. Typically, trying to push them away is challenging, and they tend to creep up with vigour whenever our minds start to quieten down. Naming such thoughts and examining them more closely is highly effective in reducing the power they have over us. Importantly, our fear can bias what information we take in from the world around and skew how we interpret this. That is where reality testing can be most effective. Here is a handy guide on how to identify our anxious thoughts and restructure them in healthy ways.
We all sometimes try to push our anxiety. However, emotions are information that we need something, and, like many alarms, they get louder when we ignore them. Anxiety is a response to our brains perceiving a threat to our wellbeing and survival. It tells us we need to take action to keep ourselves safe. One quick way of enhancing our feeling of safety is to think of a person or place that makes us feel safe and protected. Close your eyes and imagine yourself there. Go through all five senses: what do you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste? Imagination is one of the most powerful tools to reduce distress. The same way we can use our mind to think about things that make us increasingly anxious, we can use our minds to focus on things that make us feel safe. For a 10-minute guided safe space visualization, click here.
Anxiety can be very physical: increased heartrate, sweating, faster breathing, restlessness, and even tingling or pain. Soothe your body by making it feel physically safe. There are various ways of doing this. Some people feel safe in a cosy corner wrapped up in a blanket with a hot chocolate. Some people feel safe in a cove by the sea. Some people feel safe in their garden with their hands covered in dirt. You can create an area that you associate with safety and fill it with items that bring you comfort. We can train our brains and bodies to be our preferred state by repeatedly associating certain places and things with this state. In other words, make yourself a cosy space somewhere, frequently go there to practice feeling safe and calm, and after a while, just entering this space will have that effect. Be aware of how safety feels in your body compared to distraction or excitement. While these can also reduce distress, anxiety is most effectively relieved through spaces that make us feel protected.
Anxiety can make us feel out of control. Vice versa, taking control, decisions, and actions can make our environment feel more predictable, which puts the brain at ease. Even if we cannot control the bigger picture, we can make decisions in our immediate surroundings. Exert control over your behaviours and decide to act in line with your values as much as possible. Make decisions that promote your wellbeing. Structure your days in ways that give you something small and meaningful to look forward to. Anything that makes our day more predictable, will also make us feel safer, and therefore reduce anxiety.
We are by nature social beings who generally feel safer in a group than alone. We can make use of this by reaching out to people we trust and feel safe with. Sharing our worries, supporting each other, and doing meaningful activities together can both contribute to a sense of safety.
It is easy to feel anxious in these uncertain times. Don’t forget to spend time nurturing yourself and building your sense of safety in the five categories of thoughts, feelings, body, actions, and social. This will make it easier to tolerate the unpredictability around us and protect the mental health of you and your loved ones.
For more information or to book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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