Life doesn’t come with a recipe to follow, a tour guide or a manual. It can be messy, unpredictable and downright challenging. Stress unfortunately is just part of the deal. It’s normal that you’ll experience things such as relationship breakups, job losses and even the loss of loved ones or friends. As you experience these things, it’s expected you’ll feel some strong emotions like grief and anxiety. But when that anxiety starts to negatively impact your life, it can become a big issue.
Here we explore some of the warning signs that might suggest you need to address your anxiety and give you some tips on managing anxiety.
If you notice any of the following, it is probably time to start looking into ways to manage your anxiety:
- If the anxiety is having a big, negative effect on any significant areas of your life. For example, if you aren’t sleeping well, you’re more or less hungry than usual, you can’t concentrate, are feeling more tired than usual, have lost your sex drive, it is impacting your relationships or your work or school performance has suffered.
- You find yourself avoiding things regularly. For example, you might keep putting off that GP check-up, or you’ve rescheduled dinner with your best friend five times.
- You are struggling to find the motivation to do things.
- Your relationships have changed. You might notice this as you distancing yourself from others, or others distancing themselves from you.
- You might try and treat the anxiety or feel better through some bad habits. This could include excessive alcohol use, substance use, unhealthy eating patterns, preoccupation with technology and social media or even over exercising. Doing anything in excess is generally an indication that there’s something else going on and might be time to talk to your therapist.
- You seem to be getting sick all the time or struggle to fight things off when you do get sick.
So you’ve noticed some of these things, what now?
You’ll be happy to know there’s a lot of simple things you can do to manage your anxiety. Below we discuss some of the ways you might be able to get a handle on your anxiety and get back to the life you love.
You might be surprised how much diet, exercise, sleep, spending time outdoors and catching up with friends and family play a role in managing anxiety. Check that you are meeting these basic needs before moving on to any of the other anxiety management strategies.
I know this is not always easy and chances are you probably wouldn’t be reading this article if you could relax. But once you learn some good relaxation strategies that work well for you it can become effortless to “turn off” the anxiety.
Two examples of relaxation strategies include slow breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Biologically, we are built for survival. So when you’re anxious, your body prepares itself by increasing oxygen to your lungs and blood to your extremities. This however can make you feel dizzy, out of breath and tense. Slow breathing and progressive muscle relaxation help reverse these effects.
Slow breathing – Try to deliberately slow your breathing down. It’s important to make sure your breath in is the same length as your breath out. So if you breathe in for 3 counts, breathe out for 3 counts. It can also sometimes help to visualize breathing out angry or “gross” colours and breathing in nice, cool calming colours. Any colour will do, as long as it represents peace and calm to you personally.
Progressive muscle relaxation – Find a quiet spot to try this one out and close your eyes. Then slowly go through your body, starting at your toes and ending at your head, tensing and then gently relaxing each group of muscles. Try and hold the muscle tense for a count of three before releasing it quickly. You’ll find your muscles will be much more relaxed (and you will feel more relaxed overall) after this exercise.
ChallEnge your thinking
Thoughts and feelings are highly connected. As humans, how we think largely impacts how we feel. So if the majority of our thoughts are fearful or negative, then we tend to feel anxious, sad, angry or low. Anxiety can lead to you exaggerate the danger of a situation in your mind and at the same time it makes you believe that you aren’t equipped to cope with that situation. No wonder you feel scared!
To reduce your anxiety, explore and think about situations in a different way. Approach everything like a scientist, remove emotions from your evaluation and try to avoid jumping to the worst outcome. If your brain is telling you something, check the facts and try to prove it wrong. Our brains can be very tricky and aren’t always helpful when it comes to anxiety.
Try doing the opposite
One of the things that anxiety teaches us to do is avoid. If we are afraid of something, we avoid it. There are two issues with this. First, although it makes us feel better in the short-term, long term it can make our anxiety worse. The other issue is that there are some things in life we can’t avoid and eventually we are going to be exposed to them. If we have managed every threat previously by avoiding it, we’re left with no tools to cope when we are confronted with a threat we can’t avoid.
So what if you do the opposite?
If you approach what you’re afraid of, instead of avoiding it (even in a small way or on a small scale) it gives you the opportunity to prove your thoughts wrong. You prove to yourself that your fear of that situation is an exaggerated response and the “worst outcome” is actually quite unlikely. Over time will reduce your anxiety.
But what if the scary thing does happen? This is why you approach your fear on a smaller scale. By doing so you almost always ensure your success in coping with that fear. Each success increases your confidence, helps you learn that you can cope and decreases your anxiety.
Stay in the present
Most worry (and therefore anxiety) lives in the past or the future, not in the present. Anxiety is born when we worry what could happen or regret what did happen. It can be so easy to get caught up in these thoughts and carried away. Practicing mindfulness or staying in the present can help you break out of this cycle. There are meditations you can use to learn this skill or you can simply work on bringing yourself to the present moment and experiencing every moment as it comes a little each day.
When trying any of these strategies to help with anxiety, keep in mind that everyone is different and what works for one person will not necessarily be the best option for the next. If you are worried about your anxiety, it might be helpful to seek professional support. Book in with one of our Therapists today.