We all feel anxious from time to time when facing situations that are uncertain, scary, or challenging. Anxiety is a very natural human emotion, designed to keep us safe from potential threats. Anxiety can often feel like a sense of uneasiness or worry. You might also have physical symptoms - like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, headaches, or stomach troubles - to name a few.
Young people in particular go through many changes and new experiences, so feeling anxious is very common. And the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a new set of challenges, increasing the risk of anxiety for many.
It can feel overwhelming, but there are things we can all do to keep it from taking over. Here are 5 steps to try.
Take a deep breath – Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this a few times till you feel calmer. Taking slow, intentional, belly breaths is one of the simplest and most effective things we can do to reduce anxiety, as it increases the supply of oxygen to our brains and helps to promote a sense of calm. Breathing too fast is common when experiencing anxiety, and it actually causes physical symptoms like tingling throughout the body which causes more anxiety. You could consider incorporating a daily breathing exercise into your routine, or try progressive muscle relaxation techniques (where you tense and relax specific muscle groups); this can help relax the body and distract your mind from worrying thoughts.
Talk to a friend or someone you trust – tell them about how you are feeling and check in on how they are doing too. Talking to someone else can help us relieve some of the pressure we build up in our minds and also help to break down how to solve problems causing or contributing to your anxiety. Remember that you can be an important support to someone feeling anxious too - try reaching out to someone this week.
Go back to the basics – when basic needs like sleeping and eating well aren't met, we can easily feel anxious and out of sorts. Look after your physical health this week - by focusing on getting good sleep, eating well, and doing some kind of physical activity - and see what a difference it can make. People sometimes consume caffeine or self-medicate with substances like tobacco and alcohol to help ease strong feelings of anxiousness, but these will only make us feel more anxious in the long run.
Incorporate calming activities in your daily routine - try to spend at least one hour doing an activity that makes you feel better, like reading a favorite book, drawing, or journaling. Try and limit the things that might be making you feel anxious, like constantly refreshing the news or your social media feed. Feeling unprepared and rushing can also induce a lot of anxiety and stress. If you know you have something important coming up, like a test at school or a deadline at work, try to plan ahead and give yourself time to prepare.
5. Seek additional support if you are regularly experiencing anxiety symptoms that are interfering with your daily life. Think about if your anxiety is negatively impacting your quality of life, studies, work, relationships, and ability to take care of yourself, or is out of proportion with how you might normally respond in a stressful situation. When things feel too overwhelming to handle on your own, your school, health facility, or other community services can offer important support. Asking for help is your human right, and is a sign of strength - it shows self-awareness and courage to overcome something difficult. If you don't know where to go, ask someone you trust or search online for support available in your country.
These animations were created by Njung'e Wanjirū, one of the participants in UNICEF's first Youth Mediathon. If you are interested in learning more about mental health, check out this guide to take care of yourself during stressful times, or read the stories submitted by young people through Voices of Youth.