Most people struggle with anxiety at some time in their lives. Whatever the cause (voices, school, relationships etc), there are lots of strategies that can help.
Music is the best way of taking my mind off things. Sometimes I need it to be loud and angry, other times chilled out – I’ve different playlists for different moods
Are you looking for some ideas – click here to jump straight there
Why can it help?
Worrying can be something that is hard to stop. When you’re anxious your brain can be super active and you might find yourself going over and over the things that are stressing you out. You might even find yourself worrying about how much you are worrying!
Finding ways of distracting yourself is a really good way to break this cycle. It can help you to feel more in control, giving you the headspace to deal with the things that you’re worrying about.
How can I do it?
Most of already have ways of taking our mind off the things that are bugging us. We might watch TV when we’ve had a bad day, or try to lose ourselves in a computer game. So, if you want to build up a toolbox of distraction strategies you don’t have to start from scratch.
The first step is to work out what you’re already doing that works well for you. You can ask yourself: What do I like to do? When was the last time I lost track of time when doing something? If you can’t think of anything, it can help to talk it over with someone who knows you well. They might have some good ideas too.
Use this, and the suggestions below, to make a list of things to try next time you’re struggling to take your mind off whatever’s worrying you. Writing it down can help, especially if you get really stressed out and can’t think clearly.
Distraction’s a really good start, but it’s best used with other things. Check out the chilling out section too (we’ve found it really helps when the anxiety is bad).
- Being active – getting up and doing something
- Going for a walk
- Exercising/playing sport
- Doing some cooking
- Playing music or singing
- Tidying or cleaning
- Keeping your brain busy
- Watching some TV , a video or go to the cinema
- Doing puzzles or playing a game
- Painting or drawing something
- Playing computer games
- Doing some reading or creative writing
Why can it help?
When you feel really stressed out it can have a huge effect on your body and mind.
You might notice changes in your body (breathing fast, dizziness, your heart beating faster and feeling sick). You might feel scared, paranoid, out of control, as if people are looking at you, as if you can’t cope or as if you want to hide.
“I really hate travelling on the tube. I get really stressed out and think people are reading my mind. The voices get on the bandwagon too, telling me that i’m in danger. It all spirals.”
As frightening as these feelings can be, they’re normal reactions to anxiety – you’re not the only one who feels like this.
Finding ways of relaxing and chilling out when you feel really anxious isn’t easy. In fact it’s often the last thing people think about doing. Still, finding ways to relax that work for you can be the key to beating the stress and feeling more in control.
How can I do it?
Everyone’s different, we all relax in different ways. The more you know about what makes you feel safe and chilled out, the easier it is to find new ways of doing this.
Ask yourself some questions. When was the last time you felt chilled out or safe? Where where you? What were you doing? Who were you with? If you can’t think of ever feeling chilled out, don’t worry – look at the list below and see if any of them appeal to you.
Write a list of the things you want to try when you’re stressed out. Next time you’re feeling anxious, choose the one that suits you. It might sound strange, but chilling out is a skill and can take practice. If it doesn’t work first time, don’t give up. It’s worth keeping going with this, and it DOES get easier.
What can I do?
Here are a few ideas:
Listen to music: Music can be a great way to relax. Different types of music can help with different moods. Some people need chilled out acoustic music when they’re anxious, but others find metal or rock works best. Experiment – find out what works for you.
Have a relaxing bubble bath: Warm water and comforting scents can be really good at helping people relax. Experiment with different types until you find the one that works best for you – there are lots around.
Hug someone you trust: If you need it, it’s ok to ask a friend or family member for a hug. Sometimes it helps more than words can.
Give yourself a massage: There are lots of ways you can massage yourself. It might sound weird, but it can actually work really well.
Find a ritual that calms you down: A ritual is simply something you do that always follows the same pattern. What you choose is up to you – it could be making a cup of hot chocolate, arranging your books/CDs, playing scales on your guitar or keyboard, practicing tai chi/yoga, using chinese meditation balls or reading a reassuring poem or story.
Prayers and mantras: If you have a faith, prayer can be a powerful way of finding a sense of calm and balance. If you don’t have a faith, or want to try something different, you could write a short mantra and speak (or read) it aloud again and again.
If you hear voices that say nasty things about you, it can help if your mantra says good things about you. Imagine you were feeling stressed out by voices that are saying you’re a bad person and that your friends hate you. Your mantra could be ‘I’m a good person. My friends know me and like me’.
Go to a place you feel safe in: Working out where you feel the most safe is really helpful if you’re feeling really stressed out and overwhelmed. This might be at home, your bedroom, a youth centre, a library or somewhere else.
Create a safe corner: If you don’t feel safe in your room, you can create a safe corner. Decorate it with anything that makes you feel better (this could include cushions, posters and things that remind you of good times).
Rolling with it: Anxiety can sometime be helpful – it’s our body’s way of preparing us for things we’re worried about (like exams or moving house). Instead of seeing it as the enemy, it can be good to accept some worry as a natural reaction to stress and allow it to pass with time.
Dealing With Root Causes
In the longer term, it can help to look at what the root causes of your anxiety are. It may be helpful to work through the questions below.
Don’t stop there, though. Let them inspire you to think of questions to ask yourself. These might help you get to the bottom of things (you know yourself better than anyone, after all!)
Q1. What’s going on in your life right now that might be causing you to worry?
Try and think of a range of things – even those that feel quite small. Often, we can become anxious when there are lots of different things that we have to cope with. You may want to write them down in a list and mark out which are the most stressful for you at the moment.
“There are lots of things going on at the moment. I’m worried that my boyfriend doesn’t really like me and my parents are arguing all the time. I don’t feel like I can talk to my friends. I feel like I’m going to explode”
Q2. Are there things in your past that are troubling you?
Most of us have been through things that have caused us stress or worry. These things can shape us and make us stronger, but it can also cause problems if we’ve not had the right support to get through it. So, even if life feels pretty good now it’s worth thinking about whether there’s anything that you’ve faced in the past that may be adding to your anxiety.
“A few years ago I was bullied by a group of girls from school. Nothing physical, but they made me feel so small and stupid. I still get stressed out just thinking about it”
Q3. What happens just before you start to feel anxious?
Working out what triggers feelings of anxiety and worry can really help. If you’re not sure, you could try keeping a diary. Write an entry every time you feel more anxious – note down what you were doing, how you felt and what you did next. Look through it with someone you trust – you might find some patterns that will help.
“Tuesday 5pm, about to leave the house to see Andy. Thoughts: I was worried about getting the train. The voices get worse when I’m around lots of people. Feelings: I got butterflies in my stomach, felt sick and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The voices were laughing. Actions: I called Andy to cancel.”.
Q4. What skills, talents and abilities help you get through all this?
We all have ways of dealing with things. In our experience, people who feel really anxious might forget just how strong they really are. It’s easy to lose sight of the things that make you the person you are. So, why not make a list of all the things about you that are good, strong and unique.
If it’s really hard to think of the good things, ask someone who knows you well. Other people can often see things about ourselves that we miss.
“I care about people. I try and help when I can. I love music and writing. I can sometimes make my friends laugh. I try and look after the environment. I am good with computers”
Q5. What would you like your life to be like?
It’s easy to get stuck in thinking about how bad things are at the moment. Dreaming is important, though. If we don’t have dreams it’s much harder to do the things we need to do to deal with anxiety.
You could start with thinking about what you’d like to be doing in six months time. What would you like to feel like? Who would you like to be in your life? If this is very different from how things are right now – that’s ok. Use the next question to plan some simple steps that will help you get there.
“I’d like to feel good about myself. I’d like to be with my friends more and have some fun. I’d like to get into a band and play gigs”
Q6. What changes can you make in your life that might help?
Making changes in our lives can seem really impossible sometimes. It doesn’t have to be that hard, though. If you take it step by step, making small changes, you might find it’s easier than you thought.
If you wrote a list of the things that are worrying you, you can go through this and choose the one that might be the easiest to change first. Look at what the problem is, what you want to change, and what steps you might take to do this.
You don’t have to do this alone. You can ask a friend, family member or another supporter to help. There are lots of website, organisations and people who can help with certain types of problems. If you’re not sure where to look, ring Childline (0800 11 11) or Get Connected(0808 808 4994).
“I’m really worried about failing my exams. I can’t concentrate because the voices are yelling at me and I’m sure the teacher thinks I’m stupid. I could speak to my teacher and tell them I’ve got things going on and am having problems concentrating. It might help to ask him what would happen if I did fail. I could try something from the chilling out section too.”
Q7. Is there someone you could talk to about things?
Talking is an excellent coping strategy that many of us use when we’re not feeling good about things. When you have thought about the questions above it might help to talk over the answers with a friend, parent, counsellor or someone else you trust.
If you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know, you can always ring a helpline (including Childline, Get Connected or Connexions Direct), come to a Voice Collective peer support group or get in touch with a local support organisation.
Would you like to add something to this list, or tell us something that has worked for you – email: firstname.lastname@example.org