We regularly hear the word ‘anxiety’ but do we fully appreciate what anxiety is and how to deal with anxiety well enough? Here we take you through the symptoms and offer our five top tips for coping…
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, nervousness or fear that we all experience from time to time. It may leave you feeling physically uncomfortable or tense, and when it’s more severe, the physical sensations can be very strong such as feeling sick, or feeling tightness in your chest. Learning how to deal with anxiety can help manage these symptoms and control anxiety.
This mental health condition can also affect the way we think about things. When we are anxious, the world can seem like a frightening place, every situation can feel fraught with danger and your mind can take you to the ‘worst case scenario’ on a regular basis.
With all this going on in your body and your mind, anxiety may start to affect your behaviour, for example you might avoid seeing people or going to certain places, you might start working late because you are anxious about completing tasks, or checking your emails late into the evening just in case you miss something.
How to cope with anxiety
Sometimes anxiety can become severe and it can take many different forms such as social anxiety, health anxiety, specific phobias, anxiety attacks, panic attacks and generalised anxiety to highlight a few, so if you are affected by anxiety don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help can help you when it comes to coping with anxiety.
Below are some tips for helping to cope with anxiety:
1) Breathe deeply
When we get anxious the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This response is the body’s way of protecting you in a threatening situation. It is a series of changes in the body including the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate which are designed to help you be stronger (fight) or help you move faster (flight), all very useful if we are under attack, but not very useful if you are going to the supermarket for example.
So just breathing deeply can help the body settle down to its more natural equilibrium. I think it is useful to imagine you are blowing up a balloon of your favourite colour. Take a deep breath in and notice how your stomach rises as you inhale which allows your lungs to take in maximum air, then let a long, slow, breath out as if you are filling your balloon with air, and do this three times.
2) Question your thoughts
Our mind can play tricks on us when we are anxious and our thinking can become distorted. For example, an abrupt email from your boss may lead you to think that you have made a mistake, or a friend failing to return a text may lead you to think that they are not talking to you. Before you accept the thought, which will undoubtedly fuel your anxiety, ask yourself is that anxious thought a “fact or an opinion?” If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.
3) Test it out
Often, when we get anxious about things, we are making a negative prediction about what will happen, for example I can’t go to that party on my own because no one will talk to me. If you make negative predictions, be like a scientist and test it out or how will you ever know if your prediction was right?
4) Don’t fall into the avoidance trap
Anxiety is an uncomfortable emotion and many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation they fear so that they don’t experience the anxiety, for example avoiding driving on a motorway because they fear being hit by a lorry.
However, when you avoid situations, you are not dealing with the anxiety so life can become more and more difficult as you work hard to avoid all the things you fear, and eventually you may end up in a situation where you are trying to avoid more and more situations.
Because you haven’t dealt with the fear, the anxiety feels even worse.
So face your fear. You will feel anxious but if you repeatedly face it, your body adjusts to the thing you fear and your physical anxiety reduces. If facing your fear is daunting, try breaking it down into small steps, for example drive on a motorway for one junction, do this repeatedly until you notice your anxiety reduce, then increase it to two junctions etc.
Anxiety, although uncomfortable, is a normal emotion and no matter how much you want to get rid of it, we all feel anxious from time to time. Accepting anxiety, can be just like accepting that sometimes we feel angry, or sometimes we feel sad and sometimes we feel happy, and just like those other emotions, anxiety will pass.
However, if your anxiety is long term and affecting your day-to-day life you shouldn’t just accept it in order to feel better, you should seek support.