A psychologist’s advice on coping with unwanted anxiety

Anxiety can be a natural response when we feel under threat or out of control.

But as research psychologist, Dr Emma Patchwood explains: “Anxiety can feel like a constant but unhelpful guest in our homes and feel quite central to who we are”.

“I am interested in an approach called ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’ (ACT) in my research” she continues. “ACT can provide us with lots of tools and techniques that might help, like mindfulness practices. It also encourages us to limit the amount of time ‘feeding our anxiety guest’. For example, negative news and information can ‘feed our anxiety guest’, so try to limit this by setting aside a short and fixed amount of time to get up to speed with current events. The Stroke Association has some useful information on coronavirus and understanding how to take care and stay safe.

“Then turn towards some more positive experiences that you will value more. These might include watching a film you enjoy, engaging in a hobby, doing a leisure activity or looking through a photo album. Some people write down their experiences or have a go at drawing.

“Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do is connect with our loved ones. Even if we can’t physically see them, we can use the phone or video calling to check in and maybe talk about good times we’ve shared, like birthdays or holidays.

“Talking to others can help reduce the power our ‘unhelpful anxiety guest’ can have over us. The Stroke Association’s Here for You Service and Stroke Helpline are a great outlet for this, as are family and friends. You can also connect with other stroke survivors who might be in similar situations through My Stroke Guide discussion forums.

“This is a very challenging time and it impacts on all of us practically and emotionally but if we try to take small positive steps and be kind to ourselves when things don’t go as planned, we give ourselves the best chance of living well.”

Dr Patchwood is funded by the Stroke Association to develop a programme of evidence-based psychological therapies, where people can work in groups to learn strategies that help them adjust to, and accept, current experiences and cope with psychological distress that may be really present after stroke.

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