An Understanding of Anxiety
If I were to describe anxiety...
...it is like being followed by a voice which knows all of your insecurities and uses them against you at your most unsuspecting moments. The physical effects of anxiety are unique to each person, resulting in feelings which are uncontrollable and frustratingly impossible to try and manage. If you are having an anxiety attack, you will be experiencing at least four of the following effects which are symptoms of the flight or fight response:
- Faster breathing
- Unable to sit still
- Thumping heart
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling detached from yourself
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as the response to a threat - real or imagined. There are two main forms that anxiety can present as; these are Acute and Chronic. Acute Anxiety is fed by the fear of what is happening around you while Chronic Anxiety is fed by the fear of what might possibly happen.
Acute anxiety is a naturally occurring alarm in your body – a survival mechanism. This type of anxiety reminds us to act with caution in dangerous situations, for example when crossing a busy highway or walking along a dark street alone at night. This type of anxiety is normal and healthy, signalling our senses to stay on high alert when there is a potential threat nearby.
Chronic anxiety, most commonly referred to as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, is brought about by a series of ‘what ifs’ and the anticipation that there will be a bad outcome no matter the situation. It is excessive and steady, intrusive and debilitating.
There can be any number of triggers for Chronic Anxiety in a person’s life, generally arising first during childhood. Research has even shown that children brought up by family members who struggle with Chronic Anxiety may create a phenomenon where it is transmitted and absorbed without thinking. As kids we learn how to deal with situations by watching others; if we learn to become anxious when thinking about what might be, this may then pave the way for how we react as adults.
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” – Charles Spurgeon
Most people who suffer with anxiety will, over time, form their own tactics for managing and coping with it. I am going to list those that I feel are the most beneficial, along with a few more tried and trusted ones.
Conversations with Yourself
When you are experiencing intense anxiety or – in extreme cases – a panic attack, tell yourself that what you are feeling are normal panic symptoms. Then describe them to yourself. This reminds you to acknowledge the symptoms, bring awareness to them and in turn, let them go. Never judge yourself for feeling anxious; instead try to understand that it is a nervous system response that will soon pass.
This, for me is a great self-soother. Whether it’s watching a favourite comedy show or having a good laugh with family and friends, it does wonders for dispelling those anxious thoughts. The act of distracting yourself from what is happening in your own mind and replacing those negative thoughts with positive laughter can be a great tool in managing your anxiety.
This is one of my favourites and allows me to really zone out and focus on the colouring in. Why does it work so well? It’s simply a way of focusing the brain on something external, similar to meditation, making you calmer, mentally clearer and more relaxed. One I am using at the moment is Colour Yourself Calm by Paul Heussenstamm. Another go-to of mine is a jigsaw puzzle – just being able to focus your mind in a calmer manner not only relieves stress but, for me, actually triggers memories of happy childhood days spent doing these activities.
Believe in You
Anxiety can result in a loss of confidence and self-esteem. In order to rebuild your confidence it is crucial to meet and overcome any experience that may arise, pushing yourself in particular with the most difficult and overwhelming ones. To help with this, think of an extremely difficult task you thought you could never do – something seemingly impossible - but that you achieved. Focus on how you were able to get through that situation and trust yourself to be able to do it again. Having the courage to look life and its inevitable difficulties in the eye will render those ‘what ifs’ of tomorrow obsolete.
Cut Down on Caffeine
Admittedly this is one I personally struggle with as coffee and I are all but joined at the hip, however it is worth noting that drinks or foods with caffeine can make you more nervous. I am determined to cut down my own intake as part of my own self-healing plan so I encourage you to join me if coffee is one of your own downfalls. Wish me luck!
Get Your Health in Check
If your physical health isn’t in tip-top shape then it goes without saying that your mental health will bear the brunt. If you feel like you’ve tried everything to alleviate your anxiety and nothing’s making a dent then a trip down to your local GP to check hormone and blood levels might be a good idea. Sometimes that one thing you’re lacking in, or have too much of can be the missing piece in your mental health puzzle.
This for me is a must and crucial for my own mental state, especially after a long and stressful day. Set the scene and take the time to really pamper yourself. Have a nice warm bath or enjoy a spot of yoga. I also enjoy meditation, imagining myself on a beautiful secluded beach with only the sound of lapping waves on the shore, concentrating solely on my own breathing and the scene in my mind. With practice this can be a wonderful way to end the day, preparing you for a good night’s sleep.
Underrated but very necessary is learning to breathe properly and with intention, particularly useful during a panic attack or anxious moment. Try diaphragmatic breathing where your tummy expands in and out instead of your chest going up and down. If you find it tricky, try imagining that there is a balloon in your stomach which your breath inflate and deflates. Take longer to exhale than inhale – inhaling for three seconds and exhaling for four.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
This is a type of talking therapy which can greatly alleviate the stress and symptoms of anxiety. In simple terms, it focuses on changing those negative thoughts which are causing the anxiety into positive thoughts. However, it does take practice and, for those who suffer with particularly bad anxiety, I highly recommend seeking professional help where the therapist will supervise and guide you through the recommended treatment plan.
It is worth reminding yourself that, if you do feel a panic attack coming on, you are going to be okay and it will pass eventually. Feelings of anxiety can be painful and very debilitating however using the above techniques will give you the strength to go with the moment and remember that it won’t last forever.
As a therapist, I always encourage those who suffer with mental health issues to seek professional help, however at-home techniques can be a beneficial and crucial part of everyday management.
© 2018 Lorna Lamon