Anxiety. Stomach in knots, sweaty hands, feeling short of breath, racing thoughts, a feeling of dread, yup, there it is. Anxiety is just not pleasant, is it? I have thought sometimes I could live without it, but the truth is, I wouldn’t survive for long without this primal and adaptive response. It is there ultimately to keep me safe!
Anxiety Disorders arise when this response is kicking in even when there is no threat, or I’m not able to turn off the anxious response once the need for it is over. It can be tough to know when anxiety is actually a problem, but as with other issues, asking myself “Is my anxiety/worry impacting my life in a negative way?” is a good place to start.
Help for Issues with Anxiety is out there in the form of counselling, web-based resources which include self-help information, and possibly the use of medication.
www.anxietybc.com and www.heretohelp.bc.ca both offer solid information and tips for managing anxiety. We can’t eliminate anxiety altogether, but for sure it’s possible to learn skills and strategies to manage it and keep it from taking over and interfering with enjoying life.
Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed do NOT work well when coping with anxiety:
Pretend I am not anxious. This might seem like a good idea but in the long run it’s not super helpful. If I try to trick myself into thinking I’m not anxious, I am not giving myself the chance to practice coping skills in order to bring the anxiety down to a manageable level. Plus my body will be telling me I AM anxious, and this could escalate to a point where it cannot be ignored. Anyone that has experienced panic attacks will know what this means.
Avoid the situation that is triggering my anxiety. I may be more cautious than the average person, but I make no apology for avoiding certain anxiety provoking situations such as bungee jumping or sky diving (however I would like to go up in a hot air balloon for some strange reason – rising slowly instead of falling quickly…).
But let’s say I am anxious about driving over bridges, or being in crowded places, or even just leaving my home. As instinctive as it is to avoid what makes us uncomfortable, the only way to move beyond the anxiety is to prove to myself that I CAN do those things. Otherwise anxiety becomes like the bully that starts to control my life because I go out of my way to avoid it, rather than develop the skills to confront it and keep doing what I want to do.
So what does work in managing anxiety?
Notice your breathing and sloooooow it down. Generally our breathing is faster and more shallow when we’re anxious, so tuning into it helps us to get out of the anxious thoughts swirling in our head and have something to focus on. Setting an intention to take slower, deeper breaths will help to bring everything down a notch.
TIP: Learning how to do this when we’re NOT anxious and practicing it throughout the day will make it easier to do in the moment when our anxiety is up. In fact, let’s try it right now.
Breathe in…Breathe out… and even more slowly….. Breathe in………Breathe out……..
Rein in the anxious thoughts. Some good old self talk can be a great way to do a reality check and get a handle on the worrisome, anxious thoughts that are feeding the anxious response in our bodies. Something along the lines of “Wow, feeling really anxious right now, what am I fearful of? Is what I’m afraid of likely to happen? I wonder if I can try thinking/feeling differently about this situation…”
I know it’s easier said than done in the moment, but if we can interrupt the “what if” loop of thoughts with a more reasonable alternative then we start to create new pathways in our brains. Anxiety can become like the “hamster in the wheel” scenario, so we have to take deliberate steps to train our minds to go in a different direction.
It takes time and practice to get better at coping with anxiety. Did I mention that seeing a counsellor is a great way to have help to work on all this? : )
Here’s to deep breaths and calm thoughts as we approach the ups and downs of life.