Getting to know your anxiety
A certain amount of anxiety can be normal, even helpful at times. For example, anxiety preceding a job interview can help to focus the mind ready for the necessary preparation. However, excessive levels of anxiety can suck the joy out of life and leave us feeling completely drained. But how do we know when anxiety levels have become excessive? It can be especially difficult to tell when anxiety has crept up slowly over months or even years.
One way to tell if your anxiety levels have become a problem is to ask yourself the following questions.
1) Is your anxiety changing the way you live your life?
2) Are you avoiding certain situations and experiences because of your anxiety?
3) Are you suffering from physical symptoms?
If these questions leave you feeling like anxiety has become a problem for you, then have a look at the following suggestions for facing and eventually conquering anxiety.
Observe your anxiety – Facing the thing you are afraid of can help to lessen the fear. Observe your anxiety and keep a record. Making notes or keeping a journal can help you to identify any triggers such as negative thoughts, images or situations. It can also help you to notice any safety behaviours or situations you may be have been avoiding without even realising it. Record any bodily sensations experienced during anxiety. What helps to lessen your anxiety and what makes it worse?
Managing bodily sensations – These can include digestive problems such as nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Difficulty in sleeping is not uncommon, also altered breathing and worsening asthma. By recording your bodily sensations, you can become familiar with what eases them. Learning controlled breathing techniques and relaxation strategies can help to alleviate the bodily sensations caused by anxiety. With time and practice they can even help prevent anxiety.
Managing your thoughts – If worrying and negative thoughts contribute towards your anxiety then learning distraction and thought challenging techniques can be invaluable. Distractions could include activities such as physical exercise, creative activities (such as writing, drawing, photography) and mental exercises (such as learning to recite poetry and doing crossword puzzles or soduku). Thought challenging involves identifying any recurring negative thoughts and worries and challenging whether they are realistic or whether there is a more constructive and positive way of looking at a problem. As with any new skill, thought challenging requires time, patience and practice.
Dealing with safety behaviours – One form of safety behaviour is avoiding what you fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only reinforces the fear and prevents you from learning to cope. Seeking reassurance is another safety behaviour and can be helpful in the short term. However, if you are constantly seeking reassurance it can indicate that you have not fully accepted the reassurance you have been offered. Learning to self-sooth is an important part of alleviating anxiety.
Self-care – Taking care of physical and mental health is especially important for anxiety sufferers. A healthy diet, exercise and a good sleep routine all contribute towards alleviating anxiety. Taking time out to be quiet, preferably without the distraction of social media can help a busy mind to slow down. Doing things that you enjoy such as reading a book, going for a walk, running a bubble bath and lighting a candle can help you to switch off. Spending time with friends and family can help you feel connected and nourished. Anxiety can cause you to feel like withdrawing from people, but this can create feelings of isolation, compounding the anxiety.
Becoming familiar with the when, why and how of your anxiety will help you to develop self-awareness and a greater sense of control over your life. By getting to know your anxiety and prioritising self-care, you can move towards controlling the anxiety instead of it controlling you.
It may be that you need something more than the support of your friends and family. Talking with a counsellor can help you to get to know your anxiety and find strategies to cope with it. Imagine what it would be like to finally overcome anxiety and enjoy life.
“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths” - Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
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About Sian Maman
Sian is a counsellor and psychotherapist working within her own private practice and also within a counselling agency in Nottinghamshire. Her specialities include anxiety, panic attacks, depression and loss.
She has a BSc (hons) in counselling and psychotherapy and a BSc (hons) in healthcare studies.