- BY by Jen Brown, Counselling Directory
Anxiety can affect all our lives in so many ways, and it's certainly an issue that is being explored more frequently in the therapy room.
All of us can feel anxious, and we can often effectively manage these complex emotions, but sometimes our feelings can become overwhelming and indeed debilitating. Anxiety is a normal bodily response to a real threat, created by our primaeval setting, the fight or flight response. When triggered, our body releases stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, to 'supercharge' our body to run away from a situation or stand and fight. So, in the right situation, this innate reaction has a real purpose, but often this response can be triggered by perceived stresses, worrying thoughts, overthinking and over-attachment, trying to control the uncontrollable and avoiding our issues; thus causing an overreaction to situations and having a detrimental impact on our existence.
So, how can we understand our anxieties, the vast array of symptoms, its effects on the body and mind, and, more importantly, what can we do about it?
Acknowledging that you feel anxious, understanding your triggers, and learning effective ways of coping with these complex feelings and reactions can help you gain control and manage your anxiety. Understanding, knowledge, self-awareness, and relaxation means regaining your power and control.
Understand your anxiety
- Awareness and understanding reduce fear - knowing how you react, looking for warning signs, and then implementing coping strategies can give you a sense of control.
- Identify your anxiety - do you constantly feel anxious with peaks and troughs? There are many forms of anxiety, and all of them may present differently. Understanding your triggers and when you feel anxious most can help you identify what form of anxiety you are experiencing.
- Accepting that anxious feelings are a normal bodily response can often help us to 'normalise' these feelings and prevent us from becoming 'anxious about being anxious'
- Write down what triggers your anxiety - what are your worries?
- Work on acknowledging, allowing, and accepting your feelings.
- Catastrophising - often we magnify our worries out of real proportion. Try challenging the reality of worries and the situation.
- Face your fears where you can - try not to avoid situations that may make you feel anxious, as this only re-enforces the belief that anxiety is to be feared.
- Consider what’s in your control - can you change or control the situation, if so try to change/control it without procrastinating. If it’s not in your control, try to let it go.
- Often anxiety can seem worse in a morning due to waking from a relaxed state or overthinking the day ahead. Our stress hormone, cortisol, is naturally higher on waking, and this can spike higher if we have felt anxious overnight. Also, our blood sugar levels on waking can be lower, so that can contribute to feeling anxious.
Consider your lifestyle
Sometimes our lifestyle can contribute to our anxious state.
- Consider your diet and fluid intake - too much sugar, caffeine or additives can contribute to blood sugar levels spiking. Eating regularly and slow-release sugars/carbohydrates can help.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- How much screen time are you exposed to? Too much can contribute to anxiety.
- Keep a daily routine and a good sleep routine. Insomnia can impact on anxiety.
- Are any medications causing side effects that contribute to anxiety?
- Do you exercise? Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and reduces cortisol levels, so can help combat anxiety.
- Do you relax? Taking time to relax can help you unwind and de-stress
- Stress management - learning better coping skills can help your stress levels and reduce anxiety.
The importance of the breath
Often, when we are stressed, anxious, or panicking, our breathing patterns are irregular, too shallow, or too rapid. Learning simple breathing techniques can be so effective, so try these;
- 478 - Breathe through the nose for four, hold for seven, exhale through the mouth for eight. Repeat this four times.
- Diaphragm breathing - relax or lay down, place your hand on your chest and one under the rib cage, then slowly inhale and exhale, feeling and focusing on the movement of the chest.
Relaxation is key
"We cannot be anxious and relaxed and cannot be relaxed and anxious."
Consider ways to relax, such as reading, listening to music, practising mindfu ess or meditation, or experimenting with different therapies, such as hypnotherapy, sound therapy, yoga or holistic therapies.
Some helpful techniques
Here are a few techniques that may be beneficial;
- Allow yourself 'worry time' - train your mind when to worry - allow 20 minutes of worry time each day - write down worries, puzzle them through and, for the rest of the day, try to let go of your worries.
- Negative automatic thoughts vs positive automatic thoughts - often we think of the negative possibilities and outcomes, especially when we can’t sleep - so try to think of the positives of a situation where possible
- Journal - write thoughts, feelings, and worries to raise self-awareness along with positive affirmations, your plans, and your goals. Add 'worry-time' to your journaling.
- Grounding techniques - using grounding techniques can bring a sense of calm with feelings of peace and connection. Try the five senses technique, think of five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste, etc.
Managing your anxiety is possible. There are many techniques you can learn and deploy to help you to gain control.
If you’re struggling, please consider seeking professional support. Counselling, psychotherapy, CBT, and hypnotherapy can help you to off-load and be heard, enabling you to understand your anxiety better and learn effective coping strategies and relaxation techniques. Holistic therapies can be a great way to aid relaxation and thus reduce anxiety and stress levels.
So, please don’t struggle on. You can gain control over your anxiety - anxiety doesn’t have to control you!