Anxiety is a normal part of what it means to be human. It’s the evolutionary adaptation that’s designed to keep us safe and protect us from danger. However, sometimes this protection device gets overloaded through the stress of modern living, and anxiety can start to get the better of us.
We all suffer from anxiety at times; but there are things we can do to help ourselves. Anxiety exists on a wide spectrum and can range from very mild and infrequent episodes to completely debilitating and life-altering. If you are someone who finds anxiety creeps into your day occasionally, usually in response to life events, then the below tips may help to alleviate your symptoms. If however anxiety is stopping you from living a normal life, it may have crossed over into an anxiety disorder and require the help of a professional to help you manage this.
I believe that as human beings, we often don’t understand our emotional responses; we just know that we don’t like the way they are making us feel. If we take the time to really understand what’s behind our anxious thoughts and feelings, and see anxiety as a messenger; alerting us that something isn’t right, then we can use this knowledge to address the issue at a deeper level. This is where therapy can help as it allows us to look at our thoughts and feelings in a safe way with a trained professional.
Like other emotional responses, we experience anxiety in our bodies as a set of physical symptoms – from a racing heart, sudden hot flushes – to sweaty palms or rapid breathing Our mind, body and soul is all connected and so when something happens to disturb the peace in one part of us, it’s only natural that we experience that disturbance in other parts of us too. Listed below are a few things that may help to calm both the body and mind when experiencing anxiety.
Tip Number 1:
It sounds very simple and of course breathing is something we do every second of our lives! But rarely do we take full advantage of the power of our breath. Research shows us that breathing exercises are key in enabling our nervous system to regulate and normalise when we are feeling anxious.
When we suffer the effects of anxiety, we go into fight, flight or freeze mode and our brains flood our body with adrenaline and cortisol ready to assist us to run away or stand and fight. Think about if there was a tiger in the room with you right now – anxiety would most definitely kick in! Your brain would send a signal to your body that you were in danger and as such would prepare you for either a quick getaway, or to stand and fight – or it may even paralyse you so you are unable to move at all!
The best way to counteract this is to take deep, slow breaths; to flood the body and brain with oxygen and to send a signal that you are safe – there is no tiger! Our brains are amazing but sometimes they get things a bit wrong and perceive things or situations as dangerous when in fact, they aren’t.
When you feel anxiety start to creep in, try breathing in for a count of 4 (deep breaths right down to your belly), holding it for 4, then releasing for 4 and then hold the out-breath for 4. Repeat this for as long as you need to feel less anxious.
Tip Number 2
When we feel anxious, our brains are usually busy living in the future somewhere and ruminating on what may go wrong. One way to bring our consciousness back into the ‘here and now’ is through a grounding technique. When feeling anxious, focus on:-
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
This is a sure-fire way to calm the nervous system and bring you back down to earth.
Tip Number 3
Meditation & mindfulness
Meditation is the practice of purposefully focusing our attention on the present moment. It has roots in Buddhism, but most religions have their own versions of prayer or meditation, where the mind is quietened and we tune into something higher than ourselves. It’s really about tuning out the noise inside our heads and connecting with the present moment in full appreciation.
There are a variety of meditations available through apps like Calm or Headspace or on YouTube. The benefits of meditation are vast; improving both mental and physical health.
Mindfulness seems to be the new buzz word, but there’s a reason for that – it works! Mindfulness is similar to meditation in that it is about quietening the mind and allowing us to focus on something else, rather than what’s racing through our busy minds.
If you are willing to get creative, there are all sorts activities that can help with mindfulness; from colouring books, to cooking/baking, gardening, sewing, crafting, marbling, dotting and more! Any activity where we are head-down and focused on an activity will help us to feel more relaxed and achieve a sense of peace and calm.
Tip Number 4
Know your triggers.
Try to be aware of what things make your anxiety worse. Whether its a particular situation, like work, or a person or difficult relationship. It may even be something like too much caffeine or alcohol or even lack of sleep. Some things we can manage if we are aware of them and avoiding potential triggers may help. Although, when it comes to anxiety, avoidance is not always the answer as this actually reinforces the messages in our brains that certain situations/people are bad. Avoiding things may only provide temporary relief and this will not get to the root of the issue. Working with a therapist on your triggers may be a positive step that you can take.
Tip Number 5
Get out in nature.
It sounds like a cliché, but getting outside is sometimes the best thing we can do. We spend so much time inside our own heads and it’s easy to get so bogged down with life that we forget to look up. Go for a walk, look at the colours of the sky, take in your surroundings. You’ll be surprised how powerful a change of scenery can be.
If you are struggling with anxiety, contact me to see how I can help.