Ways to manage anxious feelings

An estimated 8 million people in the UK have an anxiety disorder. Are there methods to help with symptoms?
03 February 2022

Interview with 

Olivia Remes, University of Cambridge


Cartoon on managing anxiety


In the UK, it's estimated that around 8 million people live with some form of anxiety disorder. Julia Ravey interviews mental health and wellbeing researcher Olivia Remes about their scientific advice for dealing with anxiety.

Julia - What is your research found to be some of the biggest causes of anxiety?

Olivia - When it comes to what can increase someone's risk or the causes of anxiety, there are many different factors ranging from your environment. For example, your work environment - if you're dealing with stress at work this can increase anxiety, but also your relationships. Do you feel like you have fulfilling meaningful relationships, a support system, people that can support you when you're going through tough times. This is really helpful for mental health. If you feel isolated and lonely, this can also be linked to poor mental health. When we're looking at anxiety, another thing that is important is your early environment. The way that your parents raised you. Also there's a genetic component, so you can have a predisposition. The way that a mental health condition gets triggered in some cases is that you have this predisposition, and then along comes an activating life event. That could be maybe a stressful situation at work, or maybe a divorce or a relationship breakdown. When you add this to a predisposition, then this can be enough to create fertile ground for anxiety.

Julia - Your book, 'The Instant Mood Fix' gives some quick remedies for dealing with anxiety and stress. What are some of the strategies which could help people cope with these states?

Olivia - When we're thinking about anxiety, something that a lot of people with anxiety have in common is this tendency to focus on worst case scenarios. What I encourage people to do in my coaching practice or when people come to me for help, is I ask them to track their worries. Write down what is bothering you at the moment, and then write down your feared consequences. When we start logging them and coming back to them to see if they manifested or not, we see that most of the time they don't. It gives us a lot of hope, a lot of control over the situation. That's one thing that I would suggest for anxiety.

Julia - John asked 'What is one tip that can help someone and get over the hump of starting to exercise when they have anxiety?

Olivia - My one top tip would be, do it badly. This is for anyone struggling to get started on anything. Here's the context for that. Many times people aim for perfection. Perfectionism is getting in the way they can't get started until they've got all of the equipment they need to get started, or until they find the perfect gym to exercise at. All of this contributes to delays and procrastination. The antidote to that is to do it badly. Just jump right in without thinking about the outcome and without worrying about how it's gonna turn out. Just put your blinkers on and jump straight into it. I've had many, many people try this out and come back to me with positive feedback that it helped them to start taking risks. Things that used to be anxious became exciting. For example, getting started on a report for work, or getting started with exercising even. It got them to be unstuck. Do it badly and my question to people listening to this would be, if you were to start using this motto today, how would your life change?

Julia - I love that. I love that. Do it badly. That's what I'm gonna do going forward for sure.


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