I know from experience just how debilitating anxiety can be. It can have real mental and physical effects. Whether you’re feeling worried or scared, or your heart is racing and you feel sick, there are steps you can take there and then to try and help manage your anxiety.
In this blog I’d like to share with you some of the techniques I use, that are also available on https://psychcentral.com/ with the hope you may find them useful too. So we are going to cover:
- Accepting your Anxiety
- Question your Thoughts
- Observing your Thoughts – without judgement
- Focus on Meaningful Activity
Now you may be thinking “he’s finally lost it, he’s saying we need to breathe, well durgh!!!” 🙂 and you’d be right – not about the “He’s lost it” bit, though if you were to ask my kids, they’d probably agree and say that happened ages ago 🙂 But the “we need to breathe” bit, I am saying that.
Sounds obvious, but I’m not talking about breathing to stay alive, I’m talking about taking deep breaths and even trying breathing exercises to calm yourself down.
Anxiety in general and especially anxiety attacks, can make us breathe rapidly, or in extreme cases make us feel like we cant breath.
But it’s clinically proven that when we take deep breaths – not too many or you’ll start to feel light headed! – or ‘deep diaphragmatic breathing’ we activate a natural anxiety-reducing physical response, the body’s relaxation response.
Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC, suggests to “Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.”
Accepting your Anxiety
To dumb it right down – and I’m not for one minute suggesting I need to do this for you, after all you are clearly intelligent people, I mean you’re reading my blog after all 🙂 – which is the best way I can understand things, anxiety is basically an emotional reaction, that we as individuals make worse by attaching an internal dialogue or story to.
Clearly the things we feel anxious about aren’t real and can be very serious, I’m simply saying that the anxiety itself is an emotional response.
But because of this, if we can spend time trying to remind ourselves that is what it is, and then accept it for what it is, rather than feeding it with possibilities or stories in our mind, or trying to fight it, which from my experience never seems to work, we can start to feel it dissipate or reduce and possibly disappear.
This has a lot to do with mindfulness. I’m not saying we should accept that we are anxious and therefore we are never going to feel better. But if we can accept we are anxious, don’t feed it any further, we can begin to relax. see that it is our reality that we feel this emotion, and then work to letting it go.
Question your Thoughts
A bit like accepting our anxiety for what it is, and nothing more, we can also realise that some of the physical symptoms we are feeling, such as not being able to breathe, or in extreme circumstances that we are going to have a heart attack, are our brain playing tricks on us.
If we do start to feel physical symptoms from anxiety, it’s important to question our thoughts and remind ourselves that we are anxious, it is an emotion, and we can work to calm ourselves down.
Also remember to give self-care in these instances. The emotion and physical responses can feel very real, so it is not about belittling yourself, judging yourself and making yourself feel daft for being that way. Support yourself or loved ones in this situation.
Suggest asking yourself these questions when questioning your thoughts:
- Is this worry realistic?
- Is this really likely to happen?
- If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
- Could I handle that?
- What might I do?
- If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
- Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
- What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?
Observing your Thoughts – without judgement
Again, just like with mindfulness, if we are able to observe our thoughts, rather than getting caught up in them and then adding that internal narrative, for example, “I can’t believe this is happening to me, why is this happening to me? This isn’t fair that it’s happening to me. It must be because I’ve done something wrong. But what did I do wrong?” etc etc, we can refrain from feeding the emotion and start to release it.
Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., gives her new patients a 3×5 index card with the following written on it: “Practice observing (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, judgment) with compassion, or without judgment.”
By practicing this technique, you are taking a physical action to do something about how you are feeling, but also systematically observing how you are feeling, and not attaching that dreaded internal narrative.
Focus on Meaningful Activity
Speaking from experience, and I think I mentioned it at the start, one of the worst things about anxiety for me, was how debilitating it is.
It will stop you in your track, make you cancel plans at the last minute, make you avoid social engagements, and then make you feel guilty and worthless for doing so.
Anxiety can make you feel isolated from those you love and the wider society.
One way of dealing with it, and I know this is easier said than done, is to try and concentrate on doing something meaningful. Now by meaningful, I’m not necessarily saying it needs to be huge, give yourself a fighting chance and start small.
But by focusing on doing something meaningful, something with purpose, as in there is a positive outcome from doing it, we can move away from the anxious feelings, and hopefully feel good for doing that, and for the outcome of the activity.
You could maybe start by making a list of things that you could do when you start to feel anxious, so that you are not putting yourself on the spot every time you feel like curling up into a ball and disappearing.
The point here is to get busy. Immerse yourself in something. The worst thing you can do is become isolated from life and society. So get on the front foot and do something positive to take your mind away from the anxiety.
Take care of yourselves.