Facing anxiety of the ‘new normal’

September 28, 2021 in Gavin T. Murphy

Gavin Thomas Murphy runs a website called Gratitude In All Things where he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.

Have you recently noticed a nervousness in the air? Something you may not have been aware of before? We may feel tension in our bodies as we try to live in a ‘new normal’ world. There may be a tightness in our heads, chests and bellies as we return to our physical work buildings and meet our colleagues or go shopping again on a busy street or socialise more with our friends.

Research shows that even positive change can lead to anxiety, and it can take time to readjust to things we have not done for a while. Although feelings of post-lockdown anxiety are likely to pass, it’s important to take care of our mental health.

Suggestions include going at our own pace, discussing any changes with others and finding routine where we can. Focusing on the present is also helpful through relaxation, mindfulness or getting outside and enjoying nature (NHS).

One type of behavioural therapy is consistent with facing our fears: it involves gradually exposing clients to the triggers that set off their anxiety such as being around friends, colleagues or a crowd.

Over time, they learn to overcome their anxiety through repeated exposures with the realisation that these situations don’t lead to actual harm (Brain Facts). We may find that facing a situation which once caused a high level of anxiety reduces to a lower level of anxiety, e.g., from a score of 8/10 to 4/10.

There is an interesting story that speaks of a person’s attempt to apply some of this psychological research. It tells of a boy who wanders in the wilderness attempting to find an ox. Eventually, he comes in contact with the animal after following its footprints and seeing it among the trees.

With all his heart and might, he catches the ox with a rope and pierces its nose. He is somewhat relieved to assert some control but continues to hold on tightly as the ox remains wild and unruly. We all have an ox within us, known as the ‘ox-mind’.

When we take care of our mental health such as going at our own pace or focusing on the present, we may in effect be trying to ‘catch our ox-mind’. It is perfectly normal for our minds to be flooded with thoughts, memories, and plans when we sit down or be still, and to experience discomfort in our bodies.

Similar to the boy facing the ox, we gain strength from our repeated exposure to challenging situations. It may take some time before we dissolve the power of any anxiety tendencies, especially if we have cultivated habits over many years which promoted distractions (Tricycle).

Next time, I will discuss further steps to face our anxiety of the ‘new normal’, how to stop fighting our bodies and minds, and to ‘tame the ox’.

Call To Action: Try 1 tip per day for the next 11 days (see NHS link above).

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