Reducing anxiety and improving wellbeing

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In this blog Jade Irwin from our Step Up Step Down programme gives some guidance about how to self-regulate and co-regulate with others to reduce anxiety.

If ever there was a time to really discover, practice and master grounding and regulation strategies, it is now. It is important to be able to regulate ourselves, and to co-regulate with the children in our care and cultivate a purposeful perspective as it enables our thinking brains to function much more effectively. We are more productive, solution focused and strengths based, and when children are grounded and calm they are much more able to learn and to follow instructions. Find out more at: drdansiegel.com/resources/video_clips.

Although there are themes, approaches and advice that can benefit all of us, there is no ‘one size fits all’. What this blog hopes to do is help you reflect a little about who you are in order to think through what will work for you. At the end of this blog are some suggestions for websites to visit and some activities you can try, many you may have tried before and written off but they might be worth revisiting. As a child I hated hiking and would not have thanked you for uphill walks, yet as an adult, I have found a short hike to be one of the best ways to clear my head and get rid of my stress.

What are your interests?

A good place to start when figuring out what works for you is to think about where your interests lie. If you like the outdoors, then some of the initial ways to reduce stress and build a sense of being grounded could include going outside to exercise. If you like words, you could try journaling, writing poetry or writing prose. The first questions to ask yourself, therefore, are:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • How can I do what I enjoy in a way that reduces anxiety and builds a sense of being grounded?
     

A helpful next step is to incorporate some other strategies and tools into the strategies you have developed based on what you enjoy. 
The outdoorsy person could try doing activities outside (space permitting) such as painting, listening to a podcast / audiobook or doing crafts. 
The writer could use some other wellbeing tools alongside their interest, such as putting music to their words, painting their words or writing outside.

Anxiety about the future

A lot of anxiety is based on what could happen in the future. We worry about our health deteriorating, losing our jobs, losing loved ones, and so on. Finding ways to be tangibly present in the moment can help reduce anxiety, because we are in the present moment already and even if it is difficult, we are coping. A really simple and helpful way to do this is through breathing and noticing.

Breathing 

Breathing deeply regularly can significantly reduce high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our system. Read more at breathingtree.co.uk/science-breath
Taking 10 big deep breaths (exhaling for longer than you inhale) sitting in a seat that supports your back well, with your feet flat on the floor while just noticing any sounds you hear, the feelings in your body and what you see in front of you, can help you become more present in the moment. If you are like me and thoughts keep popping into your head, that is absolutely fine, just acknowledge the thought and go back to breathing and noticing what is going on in the room and in your body.

Describe your feelings

Once you are feeling calmer, you can name your feelings in a way that acknowledges them, but does not let them become overwhelming. For instance: ‘I feel frustrated because I cannot get this child to do their homework’ or ‘I feel anxious and worried about the wellbeing of my elderly mother who I cannot visit at the moment.’ 
Once you have calmly named the feeling (I find saying it out loud helps or using art and music, which also helps children name their feelings) you have externalised it, and you can then respond to it more effectively and you can begin to think of possible solutions to the problem. For the first example this could look like doing some co-regulation activities with the child before homework so they are better able to think, and having a bonding activity with you such as story time or play time following homework. There are examples for helping children to regulate available at: safehandsthinkingminds.co.uk/covid-anxiety-stress-resources-links
For the second example, you could arrange times to phone your mother to talk to her, or send her videos and photos of you and the children to cheer her up.

Suggestions

Below are some ideas that might help you think of some ways you can engage with yourself, become more regulated and grounded within yourself, and therefore more able to co-regulate with the children in your care. This list is not exhaustive and you can add your own ideas. Many you can do at the same time or with others. 

  • Go for exercise in a place you find beautiful
  • Call a friend for a chat
  • Print out or design motivational quotes and pop them around the house
  • Cook or bake something you really enjoy eating
  • Sing, play or listen to music 
  • Work with clay or similar (this is especially good for stress as it works a bit like a stress ball)
  • Paint or colour in
  • Read a book
  • Listen to a podcast or audiobook
  • Watch a feel good film
  • Write – a journal, a gratitude list, poetry, stories
  • Plant some flowers or tend to plants
  • Have a bubble bath
     

We would love to hear how you get on and what great strategies you find that work for you and the children in your care. Let us know by emailing media@fostering.net.