My tips for dealing with anxiety
Are you dealing with anxiety and need some useful tips? I lived and worked with anxiety for many years and you might find my tips come in handy.
The likelihood is you (like most of us) have experienced anxiety in your life; perhaps before a driving test, an exam, or another important life event.
Experiencing some anxiety is normal, but if it’s so strong that it interferes with you being able to carry out your normal day-to-day activities, it’s considered to be an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are very common. The prevalence of anxiety disorders across the world varies from 2.5 to 7 per cent by country.
Globally an estimated 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017, making it the most prevalent mental health disorder. Around 63 per cent (179 million) were female, relative to 105 million males.
When is anxiety a mental health disorder?
Some anxiety is necessary — it helps us react to stresses or potential threats, by quickening our reflexes and focusing our attention i.e. if a lorry’s hurtling towards you you’re able to jump out of the way. The anxiety usually settles once the stressful situation has passed.
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
If your symptoms fit a particular set of medical criteria then you might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder. But it’s also possible to experience problems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis.
What anxiety feels like
I experienced most of the common physical symptoms of anxiety: muscle tension, headaches, backaches, a clenched jaw, feeling keyed up, restless, and “on edge”, as well as difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms are a side effect of our body’s attempts to protect us; blood moves around our body and brain, into our large muscles, like our arms, legs, back, and neck, to get us ready to ”fight” or to “flee.”
“Have you ever had that feeling you get when the roller coaster is about to thunder 100 feet down and for a split second you think you’re going to fall out?
But as you reach the bottom that feeling passes……………..
Imagine that feeling being stuck there, forever. Your chest is thumping, you’re struggling to breathe and your mouth is so dry……. that fear and sense of dread never leaving you……….”
You’ll have your own set of jumbled thoughts and feelings if you experience anxiety; not everyone feels it in the same way. But I know it feels rotten anyway!
Fortunately (hmmm?), I no longer have internal sensation from below my underarms down to my feet because of MS. It helps that I have no physical sensation of anxiety because that’s what led to the automatic negative thoughts that fed my anxiety………
What actually happens in anxiety
There are 3 parts to an anxiety problem: anxious thoughts, the emotion of anxiety itself, and anxious behaviours:
(1) Negative thoughts i.e. “I’ll fail all my exams”, “I’m always going to have panic attacks”, “I shouldn’t have shouted at the kids this morning, I’m such a bad mum/dad” or “I’ll get thrown out of my home cos I can’t pay the rent” etc.
(2) Negative physical feelings i.e. stomach-churning, heart palpitating, sweating, dry mouth, shaking, nausea, vomiting. Negative emotional feelings i.e. sadness, fear, disgust, shame.
(4) Negative behaviour i.e. stealing your friend’s anxiety medication, isolating yourself, turn to alcohol or illicit drugs.
So, let’s clarify, the 3 parts of anxiety are thoughts, feelings (physical and emotional) and behaviours. You might think your anxiety appears from nowhere, but — it starts with any one of the 3 parts and snowballs from there.
If your negative interpretations of situations aren’t challenged, the patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be repeated as part of a debilitating and unpleasant cycle. It starts as small as a snowball, rolling down the slopes, then it gathers momentum, gets bigger………. and before you know it — you’re starting to panic.
My top tips for dealing with anxiety
Not every tip will work for every person. What helps you might be different to the coping skills I’ve used. But, whatever our various methods, we need to be able to deal with our own anxiety.
The very first thing you must do is breathe………… very slowly, out through your mouth as much as you can. Then slowly, in through your nose as far as you can and feel young lungs fill right up. Very slowly out thro’ your mouth, then in thro’ your nose………. and do this say 5-6 times.
I won’t bore you with the scientific reason that this does work but you can read it here. However, just know that it will have a physical effect on the mind; deep breathing helps to relax a major nerve that runs from the diaphragm to the brain, sending a message to the entire body to let go and loosen up.
So, the instant your anxiety begins — do the above breathing exercise. This will slow your heart rate and give you time to calm down. You can do this anywhere; at the bus stop, in a staff meeting, and nobody has to notice.
Relax your body by first unclenching your jaw, go on….. give it a little wiggle. Let your shoulders drop down from your ears. Uncurl your clenched fists and lay your palms lightly on your thighs. Uncross your legs and let your feet rest lightly on the floor.
So, relax your body and breathe slowly out thro’ your nose……… When your body is relaxed it will send messages to your mind letting it know you are relaxed, and your mind will follow suit. Remember, your body cannot be tense if it is relaxed, and vice versa.
Become an expert on relaxation techniques
and practice them often so that you’ll be able to use them immediately you start to become anxious. Some people say “yeah, I’ve all tried that but it doesn’t work!”
Trying anything once will not make you an expert. It takes practice, practice, and more practice! You wouldn’t be driving on the motorway if you just had one driving lesson, would you?
Relaxation can take many forms i.e. Mindfulness, yoga, visualisation, meditation, light exercise or stretching, or listening to restful music. You don’t need special yoga mats, candles, cushions etc, but they might help you feel more comfortable. Like the breathing exercise, these techniques will have a relaxing physical effect on your mind.
If you’re out in public find somewhere safe and comfortable to sit until you’ve calmed down. If you can or want to, sip a cool drink — don’t gulp or you might find yourself (like me) choking. Breathe, and go through your relaxation techniques.
If you can, talk to someone you trust and let them know you feel anxious. They’ll be able to reassure you that you’re safe and it’s normal to feel anxious under the circumstances i.e. going for a job interview, a driving test, or preparing for a presentation.
Seek out professional help as soon as possible — your workplace or school/university might provide this free of charge. A therapist will be able to support you in finding coping skills that will help relieve anxiety.
Over to you
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tried most things before settling on what works best for you. Acupuncture was great for my panic attacks but I still had to learn effective coping techniques as I didn’t have my acupuncturist in my pocket. What works for you? Can you share any tried and tested tips?