‘What often goes unacknowledged is how normal and useful feeling anxious can be’

Posted on: 15 May 2023

In a blog to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, Lucinda Powell and Natalie Hunt, of Abingdon School and The Abingdon Foundation respectively, share their thoughts on anxiety and some of the best strategies to use to help mitigate it.

Natalie explains: “We talk about anxiety and stress a lot but what often goes unacknowledged is how normal and useful feeling anxious can be. If individuals can accept that a certain amount of anxiety can help them to focus more, they will be able to harness this to their advantage. This is something that can be seen in professional sportspeople who require a certain level of cortisol and adrenaline in order to perform at their best. What is unhealthy is when our levels of anxiety go beyond this point and cause individuals to feel overwhelmed.

“When this happens, there are some fairly simple strategies which can help mitigate those feelings. These include doing some sport; being outside in the daylight; paying attention to sleep and nutrition. Now, whilst these things may seem boring, and possibly challenging to implement, it is worth doing them because they work. We know that when individuals do not take enough exercise, sleep well or eat well, they manage less well. Another useful tip is to write down thoughts and worries or to talk to someone - often a problem can feel less daunting when it is documented or shared.”

For many young people, some of the best people to talk to can be their teachers - especially during exam season. “Avoiding avoidance is really important” says Lucinda, “and teaching staff are often best placed to help with that. I think it’s important to acknowledge that different techniques work for different people and finding the strategy that works for you is the best way to cope. In my classroom, we quite often practise breathing techniques to help reduce anxiety or stress levels. Another highly successful strategy which I use with my students is a visualisation technique. I get them to close their eyes, place their hands on their desks and imagine they are in an anxiety making situation, such as an exam. Then we talk through all the possible scenarios which might happen. This provides the students with a mental plan of what to do if it all goes wrong and, crucially, helps them to put things into perspective.”

Natalie agrees: “Looking at the bigger picture is a really important message as it can be all too easy to get consumed by a task. Working out how to make a task easier through, for example, planning or prioritising, is a really useful life skill. Leading by example and showing others how we manage our own feelings and anxieties is also really significant and can be very beneficial to others - whether that’s parents to children; managers to their staff; or peers to each other. Any of these strategies can help anyone who is struggling with anxiety - the important thing is to communicate, have conversations and check in with those who are struggling.”

Much of the above is discussed by Lucinda and Natalie in this podcast, published last month.

About Lucinda Powell & Natalie Hunt

Lucinda Powell is assistant director of teaching and learning and teacher of psychology at Abingdon School. Natalie Hunt is a mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator at The Abingdon Foundation.