Monday, 30 November -0001

10 Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On

Worrying too much? Don’t get stuck in a rut, says expert Dr Margaret Wehrenberg – start making a difference today

Written by Dr Margaret Wehrenberg
It sounds easy enough, but many of us struggle sometimes to remain level-headed and perform at our best. Here are 10 simple ways to stay in control – and carry on even in the trickiest situations.

1 Watch what you take in
Every day we are surrounded by things that can be toxic to our state of mind. But a few simple changes can help us remain calm. How do you feel after watching the news, for example? Scared? Angry? News programmes have a single goal: to keep you listening. And often they accomplish it by stressing you about disasters, injustices or far-away terrors you cannot control. Or perhaps the daily toxins are poor nutrition, too much caffeine or alcohol. Try to limit your intake of whatever stresses your mind or body. You don’t need a big overhaul. Just turn off the news before bed, skip that extra cocktail, or switch a bag of crisps for an apple.

2 Breathe
Slow breaths with long exhalations are essential to calmness and a great way to reduce agitation. The long exhale lowers heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure. A few deep breaths can relax you in a crisis or enable you to face conflict in a more considered way. Even when you feel calm, it’s worth practising – you never know when you might need it.

3 Be mindful
Living in the moment has a lot to recommend it. It is the opposite of worrying about the future or the past. Get into it gently. Every morning take your first sips of tea slowly and attentively. As you walk out of your door, pause and smell the air or look at the sky. Try to really see the people you encounter at home and at work. Then expand that momentary awareness a little each day until you can stay present in the moment for several minutes. Observing without judgment will allow you time to form a more reasoned, objective view of what is happening and help you to decide coolly how to carry on from there.

4 Relax
This is as much about the mind as the body, but it starts with the body. Reducing muscle tightness will help to relieve any conditions made worse by tension, and can help you to carry on with fewer headaches. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tightening and then relaxing each muscle group from head to toe. The internet is your friend when it comes to finding guided imagery for relaxation. Start with the ‘loving-kindness meditation’ (available from many sources).

5 Stop catastrophising
If you find yourself muttering, ‘This is awful’, or ‘I can’t stand it’, you are speaking as if a catastrophe has occurred. Ask yourself: ‘Is this an inconvenience? A major inconvenience? Or is it a genuine catastrophe?’ Once you have calmly identified the true seriousness of the situation, you can stop panicking and then muster support if you need it to go forward. You are allowed to ask for help even to handle minor inconveniences. In fact, you might get more help if you don’t catastrophise because others won’t feel overwhelmed by your ‘crisis’.

6 Don’t be too active
You may be productive in impressive ways, but you might not realise that your constant motion comes with the price of imposing pressure on family or friends. They might want and need time to be quiet and regroup. Part of the Keep Calm and Carry On way of life is nurturing the calm part. If you like being busy, switch some of your busy productivity for a little family play time.

7 Control worry
Worry is often mistaken as an effort to get rid of an anxious feeling. When you don’t know what is going on or what to do about something, you start thinking ‘What if...’ But when you are a worrier, ‘What if...’ only raises your anxiety levels. If you do not need your worry, then do a ‘Stop and Swap’ manoeuvre. Figure out what pleasant or productive thought you want to dwell on (instead of your worry) and then whenever the worry pops up, tell yourself, ‘Stop!’ and swap the anxious thought for the happy one.

8 Learn how to plan, not re-plan
This is at the heart of the ‘Carry on!’ mentality. Real problems can be solved by making solid plans with achievable goals and a list of steps that move you in the direction of achieving these goals. To help formulate a plan, Google it, then start doing yours. Avoid constantly changing your plan: ensure the original one is the best before you put it into action.

9 Listen to yourself
When people feel unable to carry on, they are often undermining their confidence with negative ‘self-talk’ – statements about being afraid or incompetent. Listen to your negative inner voice and oppose it with positives such as, ‘I may not know how but I can learn’ or ‘Just because I made a mistake it did not ruin everything’. It makes all the difference carrying on successfully to encourage yourself.

10 Be prepared
When you know things will be rough, get ready. Whether you have to take a test, meet new people or face a medical challenge, get information. Preparation is the key to success. The old saying goes, ‘Luck is what happens at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.’ Ask about what the test will cover, what kind of questions will be asked – and then study. Think about what kind of people you will be meeting and consider the questions you might ask them. If you have a limited time in a medical consultation, do your homework on the things you need to know and prepare a list of questions.

In all situations that require us to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, you can develop these skills to calm your body and mind and to face up to difficulty so that you are always prepared to feel and do your best.

The 10 Best Anxiety Busters, by Dr Margaret Wehrenberg (WW Norton & Co Ltd, £8.99).


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