10 Therapeutic Tips for Managing Anxiety
We all suffer from anxiety at some point or another, whether it´s on a large scale or a smaller one. Managing our anxiety is a topic I think we can never hear enough of. It´s so easy to fall back into maladaptive patterns when coping with daily life stressors.
Therefore, this article will begin by first explaining a bit about what is anxiety, as well as the difference between anxiety and fear. Finally, you´ll also be given 9 therapeutic tips on how to cope with your anxiety better.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a physiological state characterized by cognitive, somatic, emotional, and behavioural components.
The primary cognitive component is the anticipation of a certain danger.
The somatic effects can include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, stomach aches etc.
Emotionally we feel a sense of dread or panic.
Behaviourally we may feel like escaping or avoiding any source of anxiety.
All of these responses are triggered by the nervous system as a reaction to a state of danger.
The difference between fear and anxiety is that fear is a reaction to a danger presently detected in the environment, while anxiety refers to the anticipation of some potential threat, that may or may not happen in the future. However, the body systems do not distinguish between the two. Once the mind perceives a threat, and fear is activated, the cascade will begin.
Whether or not the danger is real or imagined, the body begins to marshal the resources it needs to protect itself from this danger (real or imagined). Once fear is activated, both electrical and chemical messengers are sent out from the brain to automatically and immediately prepare the body for protective action whether by fight or flight (Jacofsky et al.).
It´s vital to remember that when we feel anxious it does not necessarily mean we are in danger, or that what we fear may happen, will. Knowing this, we can use several techniques in order to better manage our anxiety and consequently reduce our stress levels.
We´re not trying to get rid of anxiety. We´re trying to manage it better!
Techniques to calm down our anxiety
1. FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING
In high-level situations of stress, we normally find it difficult to breathe. We also put all of our attention on the idea that is causing the anxiety, that we almost forget to breathe.
By focusing on our breathing, slowing it down, it will have a neurological effect on other bodily responses, which will help us calm down.
Therefore, sit down if possible or lean somewhere, focus your attention on your breath, and start taking deep breaths through the nose whilst counting to 4, hold your breath for another 4 seconds, and breathe out of the mouth slowly counting to 6. Repeat this pattern until you feel calmer and you find it easier to breathe.
2. TALK TO SOMEONE
Expressing our anxiety to someone can be very helpful in evaluating how realistic our anxious ideation is. When we are very stressed we tend to ¨catastrophize¨, which means we tend to think that the worse will happen. Most of the times it´s not true.
Speaking to someone will probably help to think more logically and realistically, thus reducing our anxiety. In addition, expressing our emotions, especially the distressing ones, produces a soothing effect (just like after we cry).
You may be interested in: Improving Communication in your Realtionship
3. WRITE IT OUT
Aside from talking to someone, or in the case of not being able to, write. Writing about our feelings and the situation we are going through is another form of expressing ourselves, which is also helpful to alleviate our distressed state.
4. COUNT TO 10 AND TRY AGAIN
If you feel anxious about performing a certain act, whether that´s giving a presentation or getting on a train, then take a step back, go to another room if you want, count to 10 and try again. Give yourself this time to relieve your levels of stress before trying again. If necessary, repeat this a few times, take a longer break, but go back.
If we quit every time our anxiety rises, we are only reinforcing its imaginary power. In a way it proves the fearful ideation right, as if we were telling the anxiety ¨You´re right, it´s too much, it´s too scary, I can´t do it¨.
Whereas, if we try again and eventually succeed, even if the first few times are for a short period of time, we are proving our anxiety wrong! We show ourselves that we can do it and that our fears have not been manifested.
5. SCALE OF 1-100%
As I mentioned above, when we are anxious, we tend to catastrophize.
A good technique to use to reduce our worry is drawing a scale, one straight line, writing 0% on one end and 100% on the other. Under 100%, you write down examples that would cause you extreme anxiety e.g. A loved one dying, Having a car crash, Massive natural disaster etc. Then, you think of your current situation that´s worrying you and you give it a percentage on the scale.
By using this exercise, we can see that not everything is actually the end of the world, and that what seems like a highly stressful situation isn´t as bad as we thought.
6. RELAXATION EXERCISES
When we are anxious our body tends to tense up, and this tension and posture created by it can play a part in maintaining our anxiety at a high level.
One technique I find to be very productive is the Tense-Relax, which is part of the Jacobson Relaxation Technique.
It consists of tensing intensely certain groups of muscles and then letting go. It´s not easy to just relax our muscles when we are tense, therefore, tensing them harder and then relaxing them creates a bigger contrast, which in turn produces an increased sensation of relaxation.
7. BREAK IT DOWN
We often worry a lot because of tasks that we need to do. The thing is, we will always have tasks to do. They never end! Should we be stressed on a 24/7 basis then for the rest of our lives? I don´t think so.
Break these tasks down. Make it simpler. Smaller goals will take you further. Instead of ¨Cleaning the house¨ make it ¨Clean kitchen surfaces. Make the bed. Clean living room floors etc.¨. You don’t have to do all of them in one day or in one hour. Make a list of all the things you have to do.
The feeling of crossing out the completed tasks is very satisfying for many people. Also, at the end of the day instead of completing or not even managing to do one task, you would have done ten and maybe you´ll have a few left for tomorrow. This creates the illusion of a much bigger achievement, and that´s very motivating!
8. ACCEPT YOUR ANXIETY
I repeat: We´re not trying to get rid of our anxiety, we´re trying to manage it better.
Understanding and accepting this concept will take you a long way in dealing with. Anxiety is a part of almost everyone´s lives. Would be say, ¨I want to get rid of sadness¨? No. So accepting that we have a certain level of anxiety and cultivate compassion for it. For yourself. Be kind to yourself.
When you feel the anxiety rising, be mindful. Pay attention to it, notice where you feel it in your body, notice the thoughts that accompany it and maybe any other emotions coming up. What´s happening for you in that moment? Stay with it. Focus on it. By paying attention to it, you are acknowledging its presence and allowing it to go when it´s ready. The feeling is there, whether you like it or not, whether you notice it or not. If you ignore or avoid it, it won´t go away. Tell your anxiety, ¨You´re here. Ok. Since you´re already here I will open up to you¨.
When we are anxious we experience higher levels of energy and adrenaline. Any sort of exercise can help us use up energy and therefore alleviate our stress. Whether it´s a sport, dancing, or simply taking a walk, it doesn´t matter. Just make sure you get regular exercise!
10. GET HELP
If your anxiety reaches very high levels of distress and discomfort, seek for help. There are several anxiety disorders that can be treated or managed. Knowing what you are suffering from will help you know what you have to do and trained professionals can help you with it. You don´t have to suffer so much for the rest of your life.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
IT´S OK TO ASK FOR HELP.