Mind & Body

How To Be Happier And Feel Less Anxious

From the niggling worries that blight our day to the more complex night-time anxieties that keep us awake, no one is immune from worry. Here, POPPY JAMIE, author of Happy Not Perfect, tells NEWBY HANDS how her science-backed approach helps to rewire the mind and calm anxiety

Beauty

It’s dark, silent and, for the past hour, you have been staring at the ceiling worrying about a comment made by a colleague/getting through tomorrow’s to-do list/not taking out a private pension plan when you were 21. Those night-time thoughts take root, grow and spiral into negativity. So, we do some deep breathing, we make a warm drink; maybe we even ‘tie that worry to a balloon and watch it float away’ – only for it to float back into our consciousness at 2am the next morning.

“It’s the brain versus the mind,” explains Poppy Jamie, whose personal experiences have fed into her work around improving mental and emotional health. “The brain is a rational, completion-loving machine that wants to get each job done and filed away, while the mind is the emotional center where we place meaning on the events and things in our lives. If you think of the brain as the brakes and the mind and emotions as the accelerator, when we get into this tailspin of worry, the accelerator is flat down to the floor. What we need to do is engage the more rational side of the brain to start putting the mental brakes on.” If we have forgotten to do something, the brain will alert us to a job unfinished. However, rational thinking and problem-solving is not something we excel at in the middle of the night, so once awake, “the mind can make that issue snowball and take on a whole new life, where everything is catastrophic,” says Jamie. “The trick is to make a mental shift back to the rational part of the brain.”

Here are Poppy’s tips on how to change your mindset and shut down the worries. Some may resonate more for some than others, but whether you are a day or night worrier (or both), do try them – they work.

Physically shift your mindset

“It’s difficult to think your way out of a worry, but you can move your way out of one and you can always come back to it later. There’s a great saying that, ‘the same consciousness that created the problem can’t fix it’. So, get up and go for a walk or, at night, get out of bed and do something to move out of the emotional amygdala part of the brain and switch on the prefrontal cortex or rational side instead. Journaling is also brilliant if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or write a mini to-do list; taking action helps trigger that mental shift.”

Be your own best friend

“One simple but highly effective thing to do when caught up in that downward spiral is to ask yourself: ‘If a friend was experiencing this worry, what advice would I give them?’ Suddenly, you’re no longer lost in emotion – you’ve stepped out of it to put your advice hat on, which triggers the rational side of your brain.”

Don’t let worries float

“If you have unfinished business that’s playing on your mind, like a falling out with a friend, don’t let it fester and turn into your new night-time worry. Instead, get up and write her an email saying how you feel. Crucially, though, don’t press ‘send’. I’ve done this myself, and when you are lying awake thinking about it, [the action of writing it] takes away the anger and upset so you can get back to sleep.”

Set a time to worry

“If something keeps playing on your mind – maybe you think you said the wrong thing in a meeting – schedule a time to focus on that worry. Literally block out 5pm today, for example, as your ‘worry time’. Invariably, when you actually get to 5pm, the worry will likely no longer be there.”

Have a reality check

“Asking yourself the following questions will help you switch from being caught up in the drama to being an observer to it. ‘Is this worry true?’ You’ll probably answer yes, so then ask yourself, ‘Can I be 100 percent sure this worry is true?’ The most common answer? Probably not…”

Let the brain relax before bed

“The brain needs to process your day while you sleep, so if you have a niggling worry, talk it through with a friend or partner in the early evening so it’s not left hanging to wake you up in the early hours. Be strict about the basics, too, like not doing emails before going to sleep, as this activates the brain too much or can set up another cause of unfinished business to worry about.”

Acknowledge that worry can be good for us

“It makes us aware of danger, and while anxiety has a bad reputation, it’s also something that goes with having empathy and a warmer, more creative personality. We think that worrying is out of our control, but it’s not – just create a plan that automatically puts those breaks on as you mentally switch from the emotional to the analytical.”

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