Anxiety is something we all go through and anxiety can serve a useful purpose. Anxiety is worry about future events and situations, known and unknown, real and imagined. It puts us in a state of alertness and readiness. Prepares us to meet these new challenges and situations.
Sometimes anxiety becomes too much and we become stuck and overwhelmed and it becomes unhelpful and in fact debilitating, stopping us doing the things we need to do to live life to the fullest.
Here are some tips for coping with anxiety. Five tips for helping with anxiety in the moment and five more for dealing with anxiety longer term.
In the moment-
Change of scene
This is simply standing up and moving to a different space.
Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there in the first place? This is know as the boundary effect. One of the ways our brains remember things is to use our surroundings as visually cues. By changing room we no longer have those cues and can ‘forget’ why we entered that room in the first place. This can also help with anxiety. When we enter a new space we have to reassess our environment and this can distract the brain and bring us back to the moment. This can also help if there was an item or sensation provoking our anxiety as it changes our immediate surroundings.
When you feel anxious, take a moment and focus on your breathing. Trying to breathe naturally and normally. When we feel anxious our heart rate can speed up and focusing on breathing can help lower our heart rates back to normal. Focusing on our breath also helps to bring us back to the present moment. As anxiety is focusing on the future bring our mind back to the present moment can help reduce the effects of anxiety.
When we are in an anxious state our bodies can tense up. This is to prepare us to either fight or flee. When we are in a situation where fighting or running away are not appropriate responses to the situation we are in some gentle stretches can help return us to a more natural state. By stretching we loosen some of that muscle tension and as our mind takes cues from our body this can help reduce anxiety.
Acknowledging and accepting
Anxiety is a heightened state of readiness, preparing us to act. If we try and fight this response we may increase the physical sensations, such as increased heart rate making the anxiety worse. One way to try and counter act this is simply to acknowledge that you are anxious and, if you know, what is making you anxious. Try to do this without judgement, as if you are curiously noticing what is happening. This can help to give some time before automatic reactions increase the anxiety helping you to be in more control of your reactions.
This may sound a bit silly, but wiggling your toes can really help. If you can, take your shoes off, though this might not be appropriate in some situations. Then, with your shoes on or off, wiggle your toes. Try and notice the sensations you feel when you wiggle your toes. How does it feel?
This helps to ground us and bring us back to the present moment (as mentioned above). It also helps to bring focus to another part of our body, taking the focus away from thoughts of the future.
Five tips for working with anxiety in the longer term-
Exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health. Exercise helps with anxiety by firstly putting us in touch with our bodies. It can also help with the physical effects of anxiety such as muscle tension and increased heart rate. If you suffer with anxiety try adding some exercise to your routine. This can be as gentle as a walk in the park. More strenuous exercise also helps bring us into the moment making us concentrate on what’s happing right now. I find indoor climbing very helpful for my mental health. It is fun, strenuous and challenging and while climbing I am so focussed on holding on and making the next move that all other thoughts shrink into the background and its just me, my body and the wall. I find this incredibly helpful as it gives me a break from any rumination. Find an exercise that’s right for you and if you have any physical concerns contact your GP.
Yoga helps with anxiety in the same way as stretching and exercise. In the longer term yoga can really help reduce tightness and tension in our bodies. This tension may provoke anxiety as feeling tense can make us think we are tense and become anxious. Helping us to loosen up when we feel any tension.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation to help us live more in the moment. It can be incredibly helpful in making us aware of how much we are on automatic pilot. We often react with out thinking. Mindfulness helps to bring the focus back to the hear and now. This can help with anxiety by pulling attention away from rumination’s about the future to simply being in the moment.
Mindfulness can be done via the multiply smart phone apps available that have guided mediations. There are also numerous Mindfulness courses available. I’ve just completed an eight week Mindfulness based stress reduction course (MBSR) and found it enlightening, informative and incredibly helpful. I’ve also introduced clients to mindfulness and we’ve used it in our work together with very positive results.
As my Grandmother used to say ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Talking to friends and loved ones can help to share the load and normalise your situation. Anxiety can be a burden but not one you have to face alone.
While friends and family can be a great support, sometimes we need a space where we can open up with out judgement or advise. Friends tend to try and fix things and offer advice and even though they mean well this can be unhelpful. Counselling offers a space where you can really open up in a completely non-judgemental environment. Counselling can also help you to find the roots of your anxiety, to discover where it comes from. Anxiety is sometimes caused because something isn’t right in your life. Counselling can help you explore what this is and what you want to do. Counselling can really help with anxiety in the long term.
If you are struggling with Anxiety and it is having a detrimental effect on your life please contact your GP or get in touch to find out how Counselling can help you with your Anxiety.