The world can seem like a scary place at the very best of times, and when you’re someone who suffers from anxiety it’s amplified. Global warming, money problems, wondering if your friends who you have known for years are only pretending to like you. It’s tough. Feeling anxious or nervous about certain situations is perfectly normal, but when it starts to infringe on you leading a normal life it can become a problem.

I have always had an anxious disposition that has stuck with me from my primary school days even into my mid-twenties. From panic attacks about school projects to cancelling party plans because I was too nervous to go, anxiety has been a lurking presence in my life as far as I can remember. It caused me to miss out on fun things like nights out and sleepovers, and important things like job interviews I was too scared to attend. Imagined worst-case scenarios would play in my head before I went to sleep – car crashes, failing all my exams, being alone forever. It has been quite a time and continues to be something I have to deal with in some aspect every day.

The plus-side of this (yes, there is one) is that I’ve learned a lot from my own experiences with anxiety, from just living life and getting some golden professional advice. Here are a few tried-and-true tips and methods that have helped me in different ways.

So, what causes anxiety?

It’s sadly not as simple as one factor being the root cause for your anxious feelings. Causes can range from your upbringing or your genetic make up, to money problems and other related mental health issues like depression. A big change in your life like starting a new school or your parents splitting up can also trigger feelings of anxiety. If you have an anxiety disorder, you might feel feelings of fear about nothing in particular on a near-constant basis. There’s also a link between anxiety disorders and OCD – people often develop compulsive routines to cope with intrusive thoughts that can trigger them.

Take a breather

It might make you feel a bit silly at first but breathing exercises can be a life-saver when you start to feel panic setting in, especially if you’re in a public place. Regulating your breathing, and taking in deep breaths can help calm you down. To start off, inhale through your nose for four seconds, exhaling for four also out of your nose. It helps me to put my hand on my chest, feeling my lungs fill with air. There are a lot of different exercises to try if this one doesn’t quite work.

Go outside

Being in nature has a really calming effect. A 2015 study at Stanford University showed that a walk in nature near greenery or water can significantly reduce anxious thoughts. This phenomenon is called ‘soft fascination’, and being in nature can allow us to work through our worries while the trees and flowers provide gentle stimulation. Even a ten-minute stroll will go a long way.

Write a worry list

Designate 20 minutes of your day to sitting with paper and a pen, and write about every single worrying thought that comes into your head during that time – but only during that time. No worry is too small or insignificant during worry time. After the 20 minutes of scribbling, read through the list and rip it up. This helps me feel like I have gained some control over my own thoughts, and it can be really helpful.

Get creative

Whether you like to draw, write stories or make origami swans, doing something creative will help you concentrate on what you’re doing in the present. It’s also a good way to blow off steam and express your feelings of worry.

Talk to your younger self

A lot of the time when we feel anxious we end up getting angry and frustrated with ourselves. Why can’t I be normal? Why am I like this? I find it useful to deal with it as if I was talking to my childhood self. I immediately become more understanding and less impatient with myself and my feelings. You could also imagine your friend is talking to you about their worries. Would you dismiss them? Be a friend to yourself.

Self-care

A lot of articles about self-care are basically lists of stuff you can buy yourself to cheer yourself up. While bath bombs and chocolate are great, money can be the root of anxiety for a lot of people so it’s not always possible to treat yourself. Other forms of self-care like messaging a friend, taking a shower and eating good, nourishing meals are as important and won’t cost you a thing.

When to seek professional help

Of course there are times when you are too anxious to leave your room, let alone go for a walk or draw a picture. When your anxiety is paralysing you, a discussion with a counsellor or therapist can be really beneficial. You might feel nervous before the appointment and want to bail, but taking that first step is really brave. Some people feel that talk therapy is enough for them, while others will do better with a combination of counselling and medication.

How to be a good friend to someone with anxiety

Let them know they can talk to you without fear of judgement. If you feel like their worries are irrational, don’t dismiss them. They most likely know that they are, but the feelings of worries are totally real and overwhelming. If they tell you they might have a panic attack, remove them from the stressful situation and stay with them as they work through their feelings.

Sending them a voice message when they feel low is also a really easy and reassuring thing to do. It’s also handy to know if they have any triggers, and any routines or tips that help to calm them down when things get bad. Always ask first, and never assume. Just listen and that will be appreciated more than you ever know.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

We know there are loads of reasons why you might feel a little stressed. Whether you forgot your maths homework, your period started and made you feel really grumpy or you’ve woken up with a bunch of spots and have a party to go to at the weekend. Or all of them. At the same time. Sigh.

There’s that saying your nan comes out with sometimes: “When it rains, it pours.” Really does seem to be true sometimes, doesn’t it? And often that feeling that there’s just so much going on can make the best of us feel stressed out. Some people get snappy, some find their chest feels a bit tight and it’s difficult to breathe properly and others just feel really, really sad.

Well, unfortunately we can’t do your homework for you, stop your period from showing up or magically make your pimples disappear (we really wish we could too). But what we can do is share some of our top tips for dealing with things a little better when life gets OTT.

And it all starts with a technique called mindfulness.

You might have heard the word before, when people talk about meditating. But don’t worry. You don’t have to get out incense and a yoga mat and start chanting. There are way more doable (and not to mention way more fun) ways to help you chill the hell out.

What mindfulness means, simply, is that you pay close attention to what’s going on. Whether that’s thoughts, sounds or just what you’re doing. Sounds simple, right? Here are five ways to use mindfulness as a secret superpower to combat your stress:

1. Breathe. More. And deeply.

Sure, it sounds like silly advice to breathe more. Everyone breathes, right? But often when you’re feeling sad or like you have too much on your mind, you tend to either breathe too quickly or even hold your breath. You know what this does? It causes your body to freak out. It thinks something bad is happening and makes you feel light-headed, your palms sweat and everything feels way less manageable.

But we all have control over our breath. Even when it feels like we don’t.

A good place to start is breathing in for five seconds. Holding your breath for three seconds. Then breathing out for five seconds. It sounds so simple. But just by counting your breath you’re shifting focus from feeling sad to breathing deeply, so your body doesn’t go into panic mode. Let’s call it the 5-3-5 trick.

2. Get back to nature (or whatever’s outside)

You probably already know that taking a walk outside when you’re feeling stressed can help you. It takes you out of whatever irritating situation you’re in and gets you moving. But next time you go for a walk, really pay attention to what’s around you, as well as how your feet feel.

Yep, that sounds funny but if you can notice ten things about your walk and name them, like ‘rusty red leaves’ or ‘black cat’ you’ll find yourself focusing on that and not feeling as stressed. We’ll call this one… walking for 10. For 10 minutes. Finding 10 things. We bet that’ll be all it takes for you to get your thinking back on track.

3. Think with your feet

The same goes for how your feet feel. Ever thought about how your feet feel when you walk? [Bear with us…] Feeling the way they touch the ground. Paying attention to the heaviness of your feet and even counting your steps is a great practice in mindfulness too. Taking you out of your own head and doing something else with that awesome little brain of yours, rather than worry. Feel those heavy feet. Really, f e e l them.

4. Do something really, really slowly

You don’t need to space out to relax. Or to take a walk. Or even to breathe (although we recommend you always do keep breathing, please). You can just get on with your normal daily routine, but pick one or two things to really focus on.

Whether you’re making tea or eating a chocolate button, next time you do it don’t just do it automatically or in a daze. Take a deep breath and do it slowly. If you’re making tea, watch the water pour out carefully. Count how long it takes to pour it. If you’re holding a chocolate button, feel it in your hand first and even smell it. Try and notice ten things about what you’re doing instead of letting your mind race. Do things slow. Reeeeal slow.

5. Listen to your favourite song

Music can have such a powerful affect on us all. A jolly track can send us into a happy, bouncy state. But a sad song can make us feel a bit mopey and weepy. Whatever music you choose to listen to, we recommend being really mindful about it.

Put your favourite song on and pay attention to it. Simple. Think you already pay attention to it? Think again. Notice all of the lyrics, the beats, the rhythm, the different instruments. Imagine you’re in a music class and you need to pull out all of the different bits of the song. It’ll keep your mind nice and focused. Pull that song apart. 

Dance to it, if you fancy. Stress? What stress?

@BeccaCaddy

Image: Getty

Winter is coming! In the nice way, not the Game of Thrones way. And along with all the usual wintry excitements – Starbucks red cups, ice skating, wearing two pairs of tights under your jeans – this year we have a new obsession. Hygge.

What?

Hygge!

Are you just making noises?

No! Hygge is everywhere, trust us.

It’s pronounced ‘hoo-ga’ – or ‘hewwguuah’ if you want to attempt a Scandi accent – and it’s the Danish/Norwegian word for… well, there’s no direct translation but the closest is ‘cosiness’. Or ‘simple, homely pleasures’. Or the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re bundled up in a blanket next to a fire with a good book and a hot chocolate and maybe Bing Crosby playing soft jazz in the background.

That sounds like effort.

Ahh, but it doesn’t have to be. While the shops might try to flog you snuggly blankets and rustic slippers and candles that smell like pine trees in the name of this trend (and we want them, we won’t lie), the true meaning of hygge is something much simpler that everyone can embrace.

Here are five ways to find your inner ‘hygge’ for free…

cold-cats

1. Go outside so you can appreciate being inside again

You know how playing hockey or football or netball or doing cross-country or any outdoor physical exercise at school is basically hideous between October and March – because you’re frozen solid, your nose and eyes are streaming like fountains, your hands have become mangled claws and your PE kit was designed by someone with no respect for weather? Well, that amazing feeling when the final whistle goes and you can all race back into the feety-smelling warmth of the changing room and throw your jumper back on and sit against a radiator whimpering until the feeling comes back into your fingers? Hygge!

Of course, in Scandinavia you might go for long walks in a forest followed by a woodland sauna. But it’s basically the same.

Scrubs reading cosy gif

2. Reread a childhood classic

Sure, grappling with Tess of the D’Urbervilles is going to look ace on your personal statement when the time comes. But to really stir up those feelings of inner cosiness and contentment, park yourself on the sofa under a blanket with a classic book you have known and loved for years. It’s the literary equivalent of buttery mashed potato or custard. Which, come to think of it, are also very good ideas.

May we recommend: Ballet Shoes, Winnie the Pooh, Matilda, Angus, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, any Harry Potter.

Smore gif

3. Toast something

Toastiness is central to the whole hygge situation – whether that’s a marshmallow, bread or just your own feet.

Sure, you might not have an open roaring fire to warm yourself in front of, Scandi-style… but you probably have a candle (try the messy drawer in the kitchen if all else fails – they are basically legally obliged to contain at least one old candle, as well as eight thousand rubber bands and five takeaway menus), a grill or a gas hob, right? Indulge all those campfire fantasies you picked up from American movies by making s’mores, or go for a stack of hot buttery toast and breath in its exquisite scent. Hygggggggeeee.

Cosy hamster

4. Get dressed under the covers

Remember this old gem from your childhood? Go on, we won’t tell anyone.

Or if your desire to shower outweighs your desire to start the day off cosy, you can always wear your duvet to the bathroom and back – a manoeuvre we like to call ‘the walking sausage roll’. Genius.

Friends group hug

5. Surround yourself with love

Much as we love the shopping possibilities, the true meaning of hygge isn’t chic minimalist homewares or amazing food or even just being cosy and warm – it’s really about surrounding yourself with good spirits. Which could mean filling your bedroom with eight shrieking friends on Friday night, or enforcing a family board game tournament on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or even just draping your cat around you like a furry scarf while you watch seven episodes of Gilmore Girls. Whatever works.

And if anyone asks why they have to play board games for five hours or sleep on your floor or stay still long enough to become a living accessory, you just yell ‘hygge! HYGGE!’ until they give in.

See? Cosy.

Image: Getty

It’s perfectly natural to feel panicked in certain situations. Sometimes life can be a bit panicky. When you’re late to an appointment and there’s a red light; when you can’t remember where you put your mum’s favourite necklace; when you are watching literally any episode of Pretty Little Liars.

But a panic attack is something else, something next-level – a very real, physical reaction to what’s going on in your mind. Put simply, panic attacks are when that feeling of ‘Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,’ spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.

What do panic attacks look like?

During a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breathe or you are going to be sick. Some people describe feeling like they’re having a heart attack, or the frantic need to escape whatever place or situation you’re in.

Physically, you might feel like your heart is beating weirdly or really fast. You may also feel hot and sweaty, or shaky and weak in your legs. Some people experience blurry vision, or a sensation that their surroundings feel strange and distant.

Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. Part of what makes panic attacks so frightening is how quickly they come on and how intense the symptoms can feel. However, it’s important to remember that panic attacks can’t cause any physical harm. We’ll say it again: they can’t cause you any physical harm. So that’s one less thing to worry about.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Panic attacks are when that feeling of “Oh my god, something awful is about to happen,” spreads throughout your body and makes it hard to continue with your day.
  • Symptoms include: feeling sick or short of breath, feeling like you're having a heart attack, feeling hot and sweaty, shaky or weak in your legs, blurry vision, feeling the need to escape, or the sensation that your surroundings feel strange.
  • Panic attacks normally last between five and 20 minutes. The symptoms can feel intensely real and scary, although they can’t actually cause any physical harm.
  • Breathing exercises, listening to music, exercising or keeping a diary can all help, and so can talking to your doctor.

What causes panic attacks?

The exact cause isn’t understood. Sigh.

For some people, there are places or situations that can trigger a panic attack, whereas other people will experience them at random. They go hand-in-hand with anxiety, although not everyone who has a panic attack has anxiety disorder, and vice versa. But whatever the cause, they’re common. About one in 10 people experience panic attacks, and they effect twice as many women as men (cool thnx, patriarchy). 

Are they treatable?

Yes. The worst thing about panic attacks is that you can talk and think yourself into them – but that’s also kind of the best thing, because it means you can talk and think yourself out them too.

Obviously, this sort of mental gymnastics can be incredibly difficult, but it’s definitely possible. There are a lots small things you can do that can make a huge difference; talk to someone you trust, try some breathing exercises, listen to music, exercising or even keeping a diary. And beyond that, talking therapies with a mental health professional can give you coping strategies to keep panic at bay. 

When should I go to the doctor?

If your panic attacks are frequent, linked to general feelings of anxiety, or just making life difficult, it’s always a good idea to have a chat to your GP about what they recommend.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

If you had asked me as a teenager if I knew how to look after myself, I’d say sure. I shower, I wash my hair every other day, I brush my teeth twice a day, I eat my fruit and veg, I change my knickers, I exercise… ish. My body is pretty well looked after.

If you asked me now whether I looked after myself as a teenager, I’d say I could definitely have done better. I could have, and should have, looked after my brain. Not in the ‘revise, concentrate in class, have your Omega-3, drink eight glasses of water a day!!!’ kind of way, but in in the ‘self care’ way. 

Self care can sound like an odd term because caring for yourself sounds obvious, right? But sometimes it needs more conscious thought. Sometimes you need to step back and think:

‘Am I ok? How do I feel right now, how’s my body doing? Shall I chill a bit? How shall I chill a bit?’

The world is busy, stressful, and fast. Sometimes your brain can’t keep up no matter how hard you try and you might not even realise you’re struggling under the pressure and pace of life. So whether you struggle with your mental health or not, self care is a good practice to learn.

But how can you do it? The whole business is different for everyone, but here are some good places to start:

Have a day/night off

It can be easy to get trapped into thinking that you need to be productive and busy all the time, but don’t wear yourself out. Let yourself have a night or day for yourself. No homework, no revising, no coursework, no thinking about where you want to be in 10 years’ time. You’re allowed to live for today.

Have a bath!

Like we said, life is busy and showers often seem easier and quicker, but a good soak in the bath every now and then can do wonders for you. Get the bubbles in, choose a fancy bath bomb, grab a book and lie in the warmth until you go pruney.

Cleanse your space

No, we’re not nagging you to tidy your room, but… well, maybe we are. But a healthy space is a healthy mind! If you have more time then have a proper clear out of your wardrobes and drawers for a charity. You may be more inclined to use your bedroom to chill in if it’s clean, tidy, pretty, and how you want it to look.

Go outside

Nothing beats fresh air. However great it is to stay inside all day and chill, it could end up making you tetchy and foggy. Even if it’s just standing outside your back door, spending a little bit of time outside each day will freshen you up.

Get creative

Can’t draw? Can’t write? Can’t sing for sounding like a strangled cat? Who cares! Creativity is good for the soul and you don’t have to be good at it. Buy a mindfulness colouring book or steal your little sister’s violin and go wild.

Have a Netflix binge

Treat yo’self. You’ve got time for one more episode, go on. Just make sure you get outside afterwards…

Order a takeaway

Yes, yes, vegetables are great. But so is curry, and pizza, and Chinese. Persuade your parents to take advantage of a Two for Tuesday offer or get your friends round on a Friday for a pyjama and takeaway night. You’re allowed the comfort food around the vegetables.

Catch up with an old friend

It can be easy to scroll through Facebook and see what your friends are up to without actually speaking to them for months, or even years. If there’s a friend you haven’t checked in with for a while then give them a message. Social media is sometimes a barrier you need to break.

Exercise

Hear us out. We’re not talking P.E. cross country or hockey, promise. Exercise doesn’t have to be a horrible chore. It can be fun and the endorphins that are released during exercise are incredibly good for your brain. Go swimming with your friends or try running. You may get into it more than you think…

Do some yoga/pilates/meditation

There are tonnes of YouTube videos showing yoga tutorials. Spending just 10 minutes a day reconnecting with your body and mind can keep you super zen.

Say no

You’re allowed. You don’t have to do something if you don’t want to.

Say yes

You’re allowed. You can let yourself have fun. You deserve it.

@louisejonesetc

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. Whether it’s because there’s a big exam coming up, a first date, or your parents are wondering who spilled coke on the sofa and you are trying to avoid eye contact.

These are all perfectly natural times to be anxious. It’s a normal biological response; the same one that keeps you safe and made sure that our ancestors ran away from lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

But some people find that their anxiety stretches beyond these sorts of objectively stressful circumstances, bleeding into other aspects of their life and making it hard to ever chill.  

This is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

What does anxiety look like?

There are both mental and physical symptoms of GAD. Mentally, people may find that they’re constantly worried; often about things that are a regular part of everyday life, like talking to people, getting on the bus or answering a question in class. Or they find they’re disproportionately worried about things that are super unlikely to happen – like your parents being in a car accident, or that gravity will stop working and we will all be flung into space.

And sometimes, people with anxiety worry about worrying.

Physically, a person with anxiety may find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Some people experience dizziness, a racing heart, nausea, excessive sweating and breathlessness. Basically, all the fun stuff. When these sort of sensations become overwhelming, that’s a panic attack – and as anyone who has had a panic attack will tell you, for something that is supposedly ‘all in the mind’, they can feel incredibly, terrifyingly real.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. But when anxiety stretches beyond objectively stressful circumstances and affects other aspects of life, this is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
  • People with anxiety may find that they’re constantly worried. They might find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping, that their heart is racing or they feel dizzy, nauseous, sweaty or breathless.
  • There will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, but GAD is totally treatable. Many options involve talking therapies and anti-anxiety medications.
  • If you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it's a good idea to head to your GP for a chat.

What causes anxiety?  

Unfortunately, the exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood. However, there are lots of things that are thought to contribute to some people developing generalised anxiety disorder – such as traumatic childhood experiences, your habits and diet, genetics and your overall mental and physical health.

Is it treatable?

Well there will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, and that’s not a bad thing. Anxious feelings can keep you safe, help you recognise true love or alert you to the fact that you do really care about your school work.

But generalised anxiety disorder is totally treatable. Many treatment options involve talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you practical tactics to help you cope in certain situations, and strategies to avoid triggers.

There are also anti-anxiety medications available, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.

When should I go to the doctor?

It’s always good to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health (after all, your brain is a pretty vital body part). So if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it’s not a bad idea to head to your GP for a chat.

Remember, it’s totally ok to be anxious from time to time – but if your anxiety is impacting other areas of your life, there is always help available to calm things down. 

Image: Manjit Thapp