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Calming Anxiety in Uncertain Times – What Works Best for You?

No one would have thought a year ago that a pandemic would leave half the world in quarantine, but such is life – unpredictable and beyond our control. And when it comes to managing the anxious feelings caused by uncertainty, one size doesn’t fit all. Let’s find out how we can best cope with anxiety, based on our personality types, with the help of Dr Elisabeth Wong, psychiatrist and advisor of Mind HK.

Anxiety: how much is too much?

Recognising the signs of anxiety is the first step to combating it. While anxiety is normal when facing unexpected situations, it becomes an issue when it impairs your daily functioning like work performance and interpersonal relationships, according to Wong. “It’s a whole body experience,” she says. “It shows up in our body sensations, thinking, emotions and behavoiur.”

Ask yourself: do you feel restless and more tired than usual? Are you experiencing irritable bowel symptoms such as stomachaches and abdominal cramps? Have you noticed any compulsive behaviours like excessive handwashing, or do you keep wondering about “what ifs”? These are all signs to watch out for. “If these symptoms persist for more than six months, seek professional help,” advises Wong. But if the condition is mild, try these coping strategies for introverts or extroverts to ease your anxiety.

Introverts, relax!

As an introvert, you derive more pleasure from your inner life. “Introverts tend to be self-aware and contemplative,” says Wong. “So their anxiety is experienced more internally and might not be as visible to others.” This makes it hard for others to recognise their need for support, and in turn, difficult for them to seek help from others.

“Social connections are crucial even for introverts as stress relief,” says Wong. But that doesn’t mean you should force yourself to be in a crowd. Instead, having deep conversations with a close friend can be beneficial, as it allows you to express your feelings without feeling overwhelmed. With that said, prioritising some alone time is important too. “Introverts would find solitude and environment with less stimulation replenishing – having a space at home where it’s more simply decorated would be ideal,” advises Wong. “Journaling is also helpful so you’re less entangled with ruminative thoughts.”

Extroverts, unite!

It may seem easier for extroverts to build support networks as you’re naturally driven to group, but the flip side is that “they’re more vulnerable to other people’s rejections”, according to Wong. In other words, you may feel personally responsible for others’ happiness at parties, which can become an additional source of stress. The practice of social distancing these days also makes extroverts more vulnerable to anxiety.

“I prefer the term ‘physical distancing’ because we can still socialise with others – just not physically,” says Wong. “Communal activities are important for extroverts to de-stress, so even when you can’t go out, you’d still benefit from connecting with others through other means.” So extroverts, explore new ways to connect – call your family and friends regularly, or better yet, organise a party online, and feel others’ presence in a new, yet still nourishing way. “Just remember that you don’t need to take on the role of the host or entertainer at all times, as you aren’t responsible for everyone else’s enjoyment,” she adds.

So, what does this mean for all of us?

Whether you identify as introvert or extrovert, coping with uncertainty is about stopping the mind from worrying about the unknown. “There are universal ways to alleviate anxiety,” says Wong. “Sleeping enough, eating a healthy diet, doing physical exercise are all basic but effective coping strategies.”

In addition, mindfulness practices also prove to be powerful tools for finding calmness amidst uncertainty. “One of my favourite exercises is the ‘Lazy 8’ breathing technique,” Wong recommends. It involves visualising an infinity sign – like a horizontal “8”. Starting from the middle, inhale as you imagine tracing the left part of the “8” , and exhale for the other half. “It’s a soothing exercise that helps us switch from our sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight-or-flight mode, which is our body’s natural response to stress) to the parasympathetic system, which is activated only when we’re relaxed,” she explains.

At the end of the day, no one is exclusively one “type” of person. “We all have a little bit of different personalities in us,” says Wong. “And in the face of uncertainty, we can all go inwards and explore our inferior function – the introvert traits in an extrovert, and vice versa." 

Interested in exploring more ways to combat anxiety? Create a relaxing space at home, then try these mindfulness exercises to help you stay calm.
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