Dealing With Anxiety
Anxiety is a fact of life. In small amounts, it can actually help us. In larger amounts, it gets too overwhelming and causes problems. In most cases, we are in charge of how we let anxiety affect us.
For people who have anxiety disorder, stress at any level can be overwhelming. What one person can control, another person might find too much to handle. This is when intervention, either self- or outside help, is needed.
Make a list
Making a list can be extremely tough when you're already anxious about things, but seeing everything on paper is cathartic for most people. Write down everything that is stressing you out. Use as many pieces of paper as you need. Then, go back and look at your list. Make check marks or highlight the five main things on the list. On another piece of paper, write each of those five things down, along with any ideas you have on how to deal with each thing. Isolating the issues like this lets you focus directly on one stressor at a time, rather than having everything floating around in your head.
Remove yourself from overly stressful situations
When faced with an angry person, too much noise, unreasonable expectations, or anything else that creates enough anxiety so you can't think straight, get out. Get out of the situation. Say to the person, "I'll be right back," then go into a quiet room and try to calm yourself down. If the stressor is noise, go for a walk or go into the bathroom and shut the door. This gives you time to think and to react, without doing something that you'll regret later, like lashing out. It also creates a safe space to use deep breathing, meditation techniques and/or exercise to physically calm down. Once calmer, you can face the challenge again with a different attitude.
If you are bothered by anxious thoughts going around in your head day and night, find something to fill your thoughts with instead. Crafts, tv programs that you enjoy, going for a walk, housework, and games can all be positive distractions, provided you can focus totally on them. Be careful, though. Using a distraction to get out of facing the stressor can create more anxiety. Distractions can be helpful just before bedtime to relax, or just before you go home from work for the day.
Meditate or focus
Mediation may seem like a distraction, but it is very useful in most cases, where true distractions are not. Meditation is a focused concentration on something. The focal point may be music, running water, a flickering candle flame, your own breathing, your feet pounding on the pavement during a jog, anything that you can concentrate on. This creates an atmosphere of relaxation, and allows you to bring other thoughts into your mind one at a time. While meditating, think of one situation that has happened that you would like to change, then think of ways it could have changed, either by you or by someone else. This is called "visualization". The next time a similar situation comes up, you will be more likely to remember the changes you made in the visualization, and try them out for real.
Good resources for more information
The best anxiety self-help book there is. This is the one my counselor recommended for me, and it's definitely making a difference.
The companion volume to the previous book.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. This book details the symptoms and causes of depression, and focuses on what you can do about it.
Children can have anxiety disorder too. Here is a guide for parents on dealing with their children's distress.
This book contains more tips for dealing with panic attacks.
Talk to a professional
If the anxiety is affecting your work, home life, and/or relationships (friendships, work socializing, time with your pets), then talking with your doctor will probably help. Doctors most likely will suggest a variety of treatments, rather than just prescribing medication. Mainstream treatments include exercise, nutrition analysis, homeopathic remedies, behavioral changes, counseling and medication. Be sure to tell your doctor everything, including symptoms that might or might not be related, like migraines, eye pain, muscle pain or tightness, eating changes, energy level changes, and sleep changes. Many times, anxiety issues are diagnosed as a cumulative effect that may not be noticeable without a full disclosure of symptoms.
While used as part of meditation, deep breathing is also useful by itself. It is a great way to counteract the effects of a panic attack. First, break the hold the anxiety has on you by realizing that you are anxious. Then, concentrate on where your air is coming from. Short, shallow breaths associated with stressful situations are usually from just your lungs. Deep, long breaths come from your stomach, and use more muscles. This forces your body to relax, calming you. A good way of remembering this is to put your hand on your stomach or on your hip, without looking like you are "taking a stance", then feel if your stomach is moving. Concentrate on your breathing until you are breathing deeply, and you will feel a difference in your anxiety level.
Do something happy
Do something that makes you happy. If you have had a rough day, don't just leave it at that. End the day on a pleasant note. Eat out, go shopping, talk with a friend, read a good book. That way, your brain gets to relax and you fall asleep easier.
Get a good night's sleep
It may sound cliché, but getting a good night's sleep really does change your outlook on life. During sleep, your body relaxes, and your brain goes through the day's events (i.e. dreams). Often, during the night you come up with answers for issues you've faced during the day, even if you can't remember them when you wake up. You awake feeling refreshed if you get enough sleep, and are less anxious because you aren't feeling the cumulative effects of the previous day and short sleep (a stressor in itself).
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