Although anxiety is a normal and often circumstantial, it is still a painful occurrence. Many of us experience one form of anxiety or another. It is a mental, or to say the least emotional, disorder and you need to learn how to cope with it, treat it and prevent it from recurring.
Most of us with an anxiety disorder fear the very thought of anxiety. So it’s not just a fear of certain situations, social or work-related or underlying medical issues that we are afraid of – we also fear the very fear and our self-preservation instinct asks: “What can I do about my anxiety?”
Since you can experience anxiety, and various anxiety disorders, related to almost about anything, there must be multiple things you can do to feel better, right?
Absolutely! Let’s consider some of them.
How to relieve my anxiety?
Whether you have occasional anxiety or a diagnosed anxiety disorder, you should have a lot of patience and start slowly. Take small steps forward. Adopt behaviors, strategies, and practices which will relieve or prevent anxiety attacks. Managing anxiety is not easy but it’s not too difficult either as long as you don’t expect it to be gone in a day.
Most of the steps you should take will lead to a healthy and fulfilling life with a little practice, goodwill and dedication to improving your general wellbeing.
Making small but highly beneficial lifestyle changes can do you a world of good without much effort.
You need to accept your anxiety
There is no help or cure before you willingly accept that you have bouts of anxiety or a constantly present anxiety disorder. If you do want to manage your anxiety, the first thing you need to do is to accept it.
Embrace it, however counterintuitive this may sound, it will actually help you a lot. Has it occurred to you that the anxiety itself isn’t the real problem? Instead, it’s your attempts at controlling it or eliminating anxiety altogether. Having said that, if you don’t accept these unpleasant, disturbing or sometimes frightening feelings, you will experience a prolonged state of trying to fix the problems you haven’t even identified yet.
Accepting the fact that you have anxiety issues doesn’t mean surrendering your life to anxiety. It simply means that you will be better off if you fully accept your anxiety problem and then start taking steps to deal with it.
It’s not a difficult fact to acknowledge and accept as is. Nobody has ever died either of anxiety or of panic attacks which sometimes follow. Anxiety and other uncomfortable emotional states are likely to go away in most cases. Sometimes on its own, sometimes with a help of a therapist and sometimes with the help of properly prescribed medication.
So when you experience anxiety, simply say: “OK, here it comes…” Then observe what’s going on, go through it knowing that it will pass, and let it subside and go away.
Anxiety can be overwhelming. It’s not the easiest state to deal with. Some people get the worst of it. They feel like the normal life as they know it has gone for good. However, accepting your condition and taking small steps forward will give you the patience, strength, and persistence to cope with anxiety effectively.
Pay attention to your breathing
Deep breathing using your diaphragm triggers our relaxation response. This is what you need to avoid being stuck with the usual fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system.
Deep breathing leads to the relaxed and balanced response of your parasympathetic nervous system. A lot of people do not breathe deep enough and their diaphragm gets weaker over time. We need to send the much-needed oxygen to our brain and the whole body if we want them to do their job properly.
Here is a simple exercise for deep breading and strengthening your diaphragm:
- Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent.
- Place a small pillow under the head if that is more comfortable for you.
- Place your hands lightly on your stomach.
- Concentrate on slowly inhaling and then exhaling using the diaphragm and NOT using the chest.
- Feel the stomach rise as the lungs fill from the bottom.
- Let the stomach fall naturally when breathing out by slowly relaxing the diaphragm.
- Progress by placing a small weight on the stomach, such as a small book, and do it all again.
- The next stage is to stand up and place your hands on your stomach again, feeling how you breathe. You may find that this step requires some concentration initially.
- Practice breathing properly while doing other exercises, during your normal daily activities and when having an anxiety or panic attack.
Be physically active.
One of the most important things you can do to deal with anxiety is to get regular cardiovascular exercise. A brisk 30- to 60-minute walk releases endorphins which lead to a reduction in anxiety and have a feel-good effect.
You can start by taking a walk. It’s not that tiring and will do you a world of good with no investment or equipment needed. Make a list of physical activities that you like, and put them on your weekly schedule. You can include jogging, cycling, swimming, basketball, hiking, dancing and so on.
Stick to a healthy sleeping regime
Not getting enough sleep is a known anxiety trigger. If your brain usually starts buzzing right before bed as a result of anxiety, note down your worries earlier in the day and write down some affirmative thoughts related to those worries as well as possible helpful actions you can do about them the next day.
Here is one example:
Worry: “I have an important presentation/exam tomorrow.”
Affirmative thoughts: “I have done a lot of work and I am well prepared. I will definitely do well.”
Helpful actions: “I will get up early, go for a short jog, have a healthy breakfast and arrive early enough to avoid any possible stress tomorrow.”
If you’re having trouble sleeping, do some relaxing activities before bedtime. Take a hot bath, listen to soothing music, read an uplifting book and pay attention to your breathing. Dim the lights gradually and turn off your TV and your PC.
It’s important to stick to a consistent time for going to bed and waking up. Your body and mind will soon get used to hitting the sack at a regular time. This will help you fall asleep more easily.
If you focus on your breathing, you can get rid of all the tossing and turning. Deep breathing helps your body unwind, relax and prepare your body and mind for a good night’s rest.
You need to challenge all anxious thoughts
When anxiety takes over, most people start feeding their worries and exaggerate the possible outcomes. Fears are often unrealistic and unreasonable unless we have real health issues we worry about such as an upcoming surgery.
You need to change these thoughts so that they become less disturbing or not disturbing at all. The first step is to identify the unsettling thoughts. Consider how a specific thought affects your feelings and behavior.
Unhelpful thoughts usually come in the form of trying to think of all possible negative outcomes, rather than looking forward to positive outcomes of whatever is on your mind.
- “What if I make a fool of myself at the corporate party?”
- “What if I fail the exam?”
- “What if this airplane crashes?”
- “What if my partner leaves me?”
- “What if I never get better?”
These are the usual types of thoughts you must challenge. Ask yourself these questions:
“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 can I do?” “If something bad happens, how will my life change?” “Is this really likely to happen or does it just seem that way?” “What can I do to prepare myself for whatever may happen?”
Now, answer the unhelpful thoughts 1-5:
- “Everyone else is going to have fun and so will I. It’s going to be great!”
- “I’ve studied a lot and covered all areas. I’m confident and relaxed.”
- “Nonsense, planes are the safest means of transport, the crew is professional and the weather is great for flying today.”
- “My partner will not leave me. We have a beautiful relationship and are completely devoted to each other.”
- “I will certainly get better because I started to act in order to improve my well-being. Every positive change I’ve adopted will help.”
Stay connected to others
You need support from your family and friends. Don’t push people away thinking that they will not understand or put up with what you are going through. They love you and they will be there for you.
Give your friends a call and have a long chat. Ask work colleagues out for a coffee and discuss the latest business news.
Go bowling with your high-school buddy. Find new friends online and engage in whatever topics you’re interested in and maybe you’ll get a friend for life. Who knows…
Get together with people who are positive and cheerful and engage in an activity that improves your anxiety. This might be taking a walk, sitting on the beach or going to a Tai Chi class.
Avoid or at least cut down on caffeine
Managing anxiety is as much about what you do as what you don’t do. And there are some substances that worsen anxiety. Caffeine is one of those substances because it makes you feel more amped up, which is exactly what you need to avoid. You need to relax, especially near bedtime.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It can significantly contribute to anxiety disorders so avoiding it will be of great help. Caffeine affects the body by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and boosts levels of stress hormones.
For most people caffeine can have invigorating and energizing benefits but for those with anxiety, it brings more harm than good.
Don’t use mind-altering substances
Although it may seem that drugs and alcohol help to reduce anxiety in the short term, they often do just the opposite in the long term. You need to bear in mind that even the short-term effects of drugs and alcohol are harmful.
Anxiety attacks are bad enough if you are straight and sober, let alone if you are drunk or high. Stay off drugs and try to avoid alcohol at all costs.
Engaging in enjoyable activities will help to soothe your anxiety and a runners’ high is a much better alternative, for example. Or the thrill of winning at your favorite game or sports
Take much-needed breaks
Introduce frequent break from your daily work, studies or chores. A change of pace or scenery, enjoying a hobby, or switching ‘to-do’ tasks will do you a world of good. The change will refresh your mind and energize your body.
Take matters into your own hands
Think about how you can address the stressors and anxiety triggers. Make a list of these stressors and triggers. Then, next to each one, write down one or two solutions.
Try to put solutions into practice.
Here’s one of my own examples:
Shopping in overcrowded malls often triggers anxiety in me. Solution: since I need to go shopping, I started going to the mall between 10 and 11 in the morning on weekdays. Most people are at work then and there are no crowds. I never go shopping at the weekend cause of the crowded malls.
Read books about anxiety
There are many valuable resources on anxiety. You can read and learn about effective coping skills. Here are some titles for example:
Dying of Embarrassment for people with social anxiety,
For a general overview of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life and The Wisdom of No Escape.
Engage in practices which will calm your mind and soul
Meditation, yoga, or other calming practices can minimize anxiety in both the short and long term. You can sign up for a yoga class or watch yoga video. Meditate for just a few minutes daily and then increase frequency and time spent meditating.
Consult a therapist
Sometimes anxiety is difficult to manage without professional help. Ask for word of mouth recommendation or research the Internet. There are thousands of experts who have devoted their entire lives and professional careers to helping people with anxiety. You just have to be ready and willing to ask for and accept help.