There are lots of different things you can try to help anxiety, whether you have an anxiety disorder or not.
Alongside digital mental health support and NHS services, here are some creative suggestions to bring self-care help for anxiety to life.
We’ve spoken to some artists who are part of the Arts for All programme at CW+. Arts for All brings daily music, performance and creative activities into the wards at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and West Middlesex University Hospital, using art as a tool for healing.
Get urgent anxiety help
If you need to talk to someone urgently, check out the Get help now page. There are details about ways to get support 24/7 by phone, text, or online.
You can always text NATTER to 85258 to talk to a trained volunteer through text. They can help you reach a calmer place for going forward. Find out more about what happens when you text NATTER to 85258.
Focus on your breathing
We know that some people experience physical symptoms of anxiety, including tense muscles and feeling your heart beating really fast, which can affect your breathing.
When you’re feeling anxious, taking a deep breath or counting your breathing can be challenging. But breathing in a slow and deliberate way can help symptoms of heightened anxiety start to subside.
Julia White is a musician and artist who contributes to the Arts for All programme in a number of ways, including through origami.
Julia told us about how she supported a patient and their relative to make origami ‘windsurfers’, powered by their breath. By breathing deeply and exhaling in a controlled way (both helpful skills for calm breathing) they moved their models across the water. The British origami website has instructions for making an origami windsurfer.
Other creative ways to practise calm breathing include blowing bubbles or coming up with imagery that works for you as you inhale and exhale (like imagining smelling a mug of hot chocolate or coffee and then blowing on it to cool it down).
Explore gentle movement
Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be good for your mental health or to help anxiety. Find out more about the research about movement and mental health in our blog about the five ways to wellbeing.
If you’re looking for a creative way to move your body, why not explore some of the yoga videos that are part of the CW+ Virtual Connections programme, originally developed during COVID lockdowns?
Get stuck into an activity
Finding something that captures your attention can also be a great way to help anxiety.
Some people find it works like a distraction, giving them something to focus on other than their anxious thoughts. Others find that focusing on something with their senses helps ‘ground’ them in their bodies in the present moment.
Julia White gives patients the chance to try origami, which can be helpful in a number of ways, including by providing a sense of control.
‘Anxiety can be triggered by feeling out of control and feeling that you don’t have any choice about what is happening to you,’ says Julia. ‘When a patient makes an origami model, they are given back some choice and control. They can choose which model to make and which paper to use. The act of making something serves as a distraction and in learning a new skill – or developing one, if they have made origami models before – they are given a sense of achievement.’
Another way Julia contributes to the Arts for All programme is through sharing her music. She’s a professional musician who’s played in lots of different settings, including solo performances, orchestras, and ballets.
Sometimes, people choose a song for Julia to play. ‘When I play something they know well, the familiarity may provide comfort… it also provides distraction.
‘I also encourage people to have a go at the piano and I play alongside them so that we can create a piece of music together.’
Connect with nature
Spending time in nature has positive effects on mental health and wellbeing. You can find out more about nature and wellbeing in our interview with Lucy from MindFood, an Ealing-based food-growing charity that helps people who are struggling with stress, depression or anxiety.
For some people, connecting with nature can be as simple as heading out for a walk around their local area or spending time in a local park. For others, including people in hospitals or inpatient units and people with conditions like agoraphobia, getting outside can be more challenging.
CW+ has been working with Hammersmith Community Gardens Association (HCGA) since 2015. People from HCGA visit Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to give patients a chance to engage with nature in a hospital setting.
Megan from HCGA explains some of the innovative ways they work with patients: ‘On a Friday, you will find me making scented bags using either dried herbs or flowers… these little bags contain lovely fragrant smells from the outside that can be enjoyed at any time of the day to help relax and calm the mind.
‘In recent years, there has been evidence to suggest that smells associated with nature can boost psychological wellbeing. It’s good to bring the outdoors inside.’
HCGA has also created some videos you can follow to make your own nature-based creation.
Share with others
Sometimes, doing a creative activity with someone else can provide an opportunity to start a conversation about mental health. And even if you don’t want to talk about big topics, spending time together on a joint activity can help remind you that you’re not alone.
Eek & Wild are a contemporary dance trio who are part of the Arts for All programme. Through the programme, Emily, Ella, and Katie give children in hospital the chance to see and interact with short pop-up dance performances.
Eek & Wild know lots about the importance of connecting with others through creativity. They made a dance film, Together We Wait, remotely during lockdown.
They told us: ‘Our creative process focused on finding connections between us even though we were all apart. The film explores mindful moments to connect with our bodies and nature. We hope that Together We Wait offers people a moment to pause, reflect and breathe.’