Tools to help manage anxiety
We all feel anxious sometimes. Anxiety is a perfectly natural and normal reaction to a stressful situation, any sort of uncertainty, or a period of change. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and the theme for the week is ANXIETY.
Anxiety is effectively our brains way of protecting us against threats and danger. It aims to keep us safe and to push us into action in certain circumstances. This means that a little anxiety can even be helpful sometimes. For example, a little anxiety when crossing the road, means that you are more cautious. Or a little anxiety before an exam or deadline may push you into preparation-mode. Anxiety however becomes harmful when it is severe, persistent and gets in the way of our day-to-day life. Anxiety becomes harmful when the worrying and other symptoms we experience are disproportionate to the threat posed by the thing/s that we are worrying about.
There are several symptoms of excessive anxiety and they can include:
- worrying a lot or noticing your mind racing
- a sense of impending doom or that something bad is going to happen
- digestive issues, feeling sick or a knot in your stomach
- a racing heart, sweating or tightness in your chest
- headaches, backaches or other aches and pains
- feeling on edge or unable to concentrate
- sleep issues
- pins and needles
- imagining everything that could go wrong and noticing your thinking going in circles.
Anxiety will show up differently for each person so it can be helpful to tune into what signs and symptoms come up for you.
So what steps can you take to manage anxiety if it is getting in the way of you enjoying your day-to-day life? Firstly if you are experiencing frequent, persistent or severe anxiety it is important that you speak to your doctor or to a psychotherapist. Whilst some anxiety is normal for all of us, if your anxiety is severe or persistent you may benefit from some medication or talking therapy to most effectively manage your symptoms. In addition to seeking out professional help (or if you are experiencing mild/occasional anxiety) here are some self-help strategies you can try to reduce your symptoms:
Too much caffeine can make us feel jittery and an on edge. Cutting back on your caffeine intake is one of the simplest steps you can take to reduce your anxiety levels. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, green tea, and dark chocolate. It can be helpful to gradually reduce how much caffeine you are having and eventually aim to have no more than one cup of coffee or two cups of tea before midday. Some people may need to give up caffeine entirely to notice the benefits for their anxiety symptoms.
2.WRITE A WORRY LIST EVERY DAY
Worrying is an unhelpful way of thinking about the future that often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Worrying can involve thinking in circles about everything that could go wrong in the future. It can help to try and channel worrying into planning instead. Planning is a more helpful way of thinking about the future because it is more solution-focused and offers a more balanced perspective. It can help for you to carve out 10-30 minutes every day when you will write a list of things that have been worrying you and then ask yourself what practically you can do to manage these situation.
3. USE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES LIKE MEDITATION AND HYPNOTHERAPY
Relaxation techniques can help to shift our body from the "fight or flight" anxiety-state into a "rest and digest" mode. Mediation, hypnotherapy and breathing exercises can all help you to shift your body's physical state and therefore to manage your anxiety symptoms.
4. KEEP A JOURNAL TO FIND OUT YOUR TRIGGERS
Each person will have different factors that trigger their anxiety. It can be helpful to keep a journal of everything that happens in your day to try and understand what may be triggering your anxiety. You may find that things such as not getting enough sleep, drinking too much coffee, spending too much time on social media, or spending time around certain people trigger you to feel more anxious. By understand what triggers you to feel more anxious, you can then take steps to start managing those triggers and the anxiety.
5. REDUCE YOUR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND EAT REGULAR, BALANCED MEALS
Unfortunately alcohol can make anxiety worse. You may have experienced the horrible "HAN-XIETY" you get when you have had too much to drink the previous night and a bad night's sleep. Cutting back on how much alcohol you are drinking can really improve your anxiety symptoms. It can also help with your symptoms to ensure that you are eating regular and balanced meals and aiming to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
6. POSITIVE SELF-TALK
How you talk to yourself significantly affects how you feel. If you are being harsh on yourself and very critical of yourself, this is likely to drive low mood and anxiety. If on the other hand, you are talking to yourself in the same kind and compassionate way you would talk to a friend, you are likely to feel much better. A helpful way to improve anxiety symptoms, is to really try to talk yourself as you would someone you love and care about deeply.
7. MENTAL REHEARSAL AND POSITIVE VISUALISATION
Anxiety often involves thinking about and focusing on everything bad that could happen in the future. It can help instead to try and focus on and think about neutral or good things that can happen in the future. You may also find it helpful to play out future situations in your mind, whilst imaging things going well and how you would like them to go. The more you can focus on your ability to cope with what lies ahead and the positive outcomes you would like to occur, the less anxious you are likely to feel.
8. CHANNEL ANXIETY INTO EXCITEMENT
The symptoms of anxiety are very similar to excitement. It can help to try and channel any anxiety you are experiencing into excitement instead. For example, if you are feeling anxious before public speaking or a performance, you can say "I AM EXCITED" out aloud to communicate to your mind and body that the symptoms you are experiencing are attached to excitement rather than anxiety.
If you are feeling anxious and would like some support from an experienced psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free consultation.
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” — Marcus Aurelius