Women ‘worry more than men’ post-Covid – how to stop it taking over your life - The Coventry Observer

18th Aug, 2022

Women ‘worry more than men’ post-Covid – how to stop it taking over your life

Coventry Editorial 14th Jul, 2022

Surging prices, ageing parents, NHS backlogs, anxious kids… there’s a lot to worry about right now – and it looks like women are bearing the brunt.

While worry levels were pretty evenly split between men and women before the pandemic, women are now twice as likely as men to be ‘extremely worried’ about their lives, according to a new report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Researchers studied data collected in January 2018, January 2019 and January 2022, and found a “stark” gender worry gap has emerged.

For example, more than half of women are extremely worried about the health and wellbeing of their parents (52%) and children (53%), compared with 32% and 34% of men, and 31% were extremely worried about their work-life balance, compared with 20% of men.

Overall, almost a fifth reported they were extremely worried about most areas of their life now, compared with 9% of men.

When there’s a lot going on, it’s only natural to worry – it isn’t something we can just ‘switch off’. So go easy on yourself – we’re humans, not robots.

But as Alexander James, ‘The Mindful Therapist’ at Resilience Zone (resilience-zone.com), points out:

“Worries can mount up and become overwhelming, getting in the way of all aspects of our lives, from spending quality time with our families to getting a good night’s sleep.”

Photo of Alexander James, The Mindful Therapist at Resilience Zone. Picture credit: Resilience Zone/PA.

So, what are some things we can do to help ease that sense of overwhelm?

Think about what ‘seeds’ you’re watering

In her book, The Getting Of Resilience From The Inside Out (Hammersmith Books, available January 2023), senior therapist Sally Baker shares a range of strategies – including shifting focus away from anxious thoughts to make them less suffocating. Baker explains:

“Imagine a seed in the palm of your hand. When you water the seed, it begins to sprout, and from that initial green shoot rapidly grows a powerful and all-enveloping vine.

“The seed represents a negative thought, and the water you give it represents the attention you pay it, which reinforces that negative thought. Very soon, the negative thought has grown so much that just like a tangled vine from the seed, it surrounds you, filling all the available space.”

Those thoughts might still come and go – but could you try to ‘water’ them a bit less? This might be about remembering to ‘water’ feelgood ‘seeds’ in our lives too – whether that’s doing things we enjoy, or being present with loved ones.

Photo of senior therapist Sally Baker. Picture credit: Sally Baker/PA.

Pause and breathe

“When you realise you are focusing on a negative thought and allowing it to grow out of proportion, pause and take a breath or two. This helps you gain a more balanced perspective, and to keep anxiety in check,” says Baker.

She suggests we often don’t realise our breathing tends to become more shallow when we’re stressed or worried – which can add to the cycle of overwhelm – so it might be helpful to assess your breathing.

“You can do this by taking three gentle in and out breaths. While you do this, begin to gain an awareness of the depth of your breathing on a scale of zero to 10,” says Baker.

“Zero means no breath in your lungs, and 10 signifies you are breathing deeply and freely. Just take an intuitive guess. You may be surprised to find your breathing is below a number five, so about half capacity. It is very difficult to feel calm when your breathing is suppressed.

“To increase the depth of your breathing, you can tap with a soft fist around your collarbone and focus on breathing more deeply for a few moments. The tapping around your collarbone is an energy therapy technique that can help you feel more grounded and secure.”

Schedule your worry time

This is all about making a pact with your whirling, swirling brain. It gets a set ‘worry window’ when you can let those thoughts fly, guilt-free. Then the rest of the day, you try to park it and be more present (well, that’s the idea!). James suggests:

“Set aside 15 minutes at lunchtime as designated worry time.

“The aim is to notice the worrying thoughts during the day, then tell yourself, ‘I’ll not worry about that now, as I can worry about it later’, then return your focus of attention to what you were doing, or do something else.

“The aim is that you are learning not to react to worrying thoughts for the rest of the day, and you are taking control over the usual urge to worry. You will find this easier over time.”

Notice five things

James recommends this “simple exercise to help centre yourself and connect with your environment”.

To do it, he says:

“Pause for a moment… Look around and notice five things you can see. Listen carefully and notice five things you can hear. Lastly, notice five things you can feel in contact with your body. For example, your watch against your wrist, your collar against your neck, the air on your face, your feet on the floor, your back against the chair, etc.

“This is a grounding exercise, where we step out of the busy mode of the mind. Although very useful during times when we are worrying, making a regular habit of practising it trains our mind to be in the present moment, avoiding getting caught up in negative thought patterns, and building our long-term resilience to stress.”

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