This Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is ‘Movement: Moving more for our mental health,’ but many people find their mental health can be its own barrier to getting out into the world and finding joyful ways to move. Lynn Bellis, Social Prescriber for Health in Mind, explores the ways we can support people through this

Working in social prescribing, reaching out to help people connect within their communities, I have met many people who find anxiety keeps them inside their house. So how can we support people in our lives through anxiety to help them feel more able to get out and about? 

The key to reducing anxiety for many people is to break the “cycle of anxiety”. If something makes you anxious and you avoid it, you get short term relief from not doing the thing that makes you anxious. Avoidance can look like a lot of things – procrastinating on tasks that scare us, returning to comfortable self-destructive habits, or, of course, refusing to go into situations that trigger anxiety,  However, by doing this, you then increase the anxious feelings for the long term and the cycle begins all over again.  

The more you avoid the situations you’re anxious about, the more you train your brain that avoiding those things will make you feel better, and your fear and urge to avoid them will only grow. This is how, for example, people spiral into a place where even leaving the house feels impossible. So to get back out into the world, we have to break that cycle. 

Part of my work as a social prescriber is to help people break the cycle of anxiety. This can be as simple as meeting up for a coffee and engaging in light conversation.     

I regularly build telephone relationships with people suffering with social anxiety at first.  When it becomes clear that going out and socialising is a big fear, together we address it and agree to work towards meeting in a local café.  That may seem like a small thing to achieve, but if you haven’t been out of the house for a while and if you only go out very occasionally, this can be a big step.  

I have met with clients who have gone through anxious struggles, prior to leaving their house, but who have overcome them and made our first meeting. Then, where possible, we repeat it a few weeks later. Over time and repetition, the anxiety begins to reduce.  The more we meet the less anxious they become.   

Clients have gone on to regain their confidence and began doing everyday activities in their life again. From simple things, like meeting friends for a coffee, to volunteering for local charities and even gaining employment. Building self esteem, confidence and regaining social skills can be the beginning to all kinds of development. 
 
So if I had one piece of advice for people who are struggling with anxiety, and for the people who care about them, it’s this: do what you can to make safe opportunities to push through the avoidance. Breaking the cycle of anxiety and addressing that first avoidance can seem like a small step, but it can lead to big leaps.   

So the next time you feel anxious, try to understand what is behind the anxiety. And decide to face it, rather than avoid it. Who knows where it will lead?