Helping to manage anxiety
Anxiety is a normal human emotion; we all feel anxious sometimes and anxiety is an important emotion because it’s our body’s signal to proceed with caution. It’s like our body’s warning light and it triggers the “what if” thoughts so that our brain can be charged to think carefully about the choices we make and any relative consequences. This can be a helpful process; because sometimes it is important to think about all the pros and cons when we are making big decisions in life. However, when anxiety starts coming up with “what if” thoughts for the smaller things in life, it can become a problem. Worrying about everything in life can become overwhelming and can prevent us living our lives the way we would like to.
When anxiety is triggered it is as though we have two voices in our head, although in reality our psyche is considerably more complicated than this. When things are running smoothly, the two voices work in harmony with each other, taking turns. It is the responsibility of one voice to share the worry, concern and risks around a certain situation or event, whereas the other voice is responsible for considering these concerns in order to weigh up the pros and cons in order to risk assess the situation.
When these voices are in equal balance they can work successfully to find the best option for the head in which they reside. However, when the voices are out of alignment, the voice of worry becomes much louder so that we can hardly hear the voice of reason. We become overwhelmed by worrying thoughts and consumed by the “what ifs” so that our voice of reason is unable to think straight and eventually becomes less able to respond. In order to address the balance, we have to quieten to voice of worry and remind it that although it is good to be cautious, not all life events require the same degree of caution.
So how then do we quiet the over anxious part of ourselves so that we can feel empowered to keep our “what ifs” in check?
Notice – How do you know when you are feeling anxious?
Next time you feel anxious, notice what happens in your body. Are you getting hot? Sweaty hands? Racing pulse? Breathlessness? Tingly fingers? Breathing too fast? Feeling sick? This is your body reacting to your thoughts. If there is an emergency, your body needs to get ready to run or fight – it is listening carefully to that voice in your head. So what is the voice saying - what are you thinking?
Stop – Breathe
Sit calmly, close your eyes (if you can) focus on your breath, count slowly, try to slow your breathing, tell yourself that you got this, you are OK, you can control the voice of worry. Now you can think.
Notice – What are you thinking?
What is that voice of worry telling you? Are you worrying about the consequences of an event? How you responded in the moment? Are you thinking unkind thoughts about yourself? Can you change anything/do anything? If you can, do it! If you can’t why not? Is it your worry or are you worrying about something that is out of your control? If you are let it go! Who can help? Who has the answer?
Stop – Breathe
Sit calmly, close your eyes (if you can) focus on your breath, count slowly, try to slow your breathing, tell yourself that you got this, you are OK, you can control the voice of worry.
Notice – How are you feeling now? What are you thinking now?
Keep that calm breathing going, but think kind thoughts about yourself. Remember happy times when you have felt proud of yourself. When have you done something you never thought you could have? Have faith in yourself. Think positive. Feel pride in who you are and what might be possible when you are able to think clearly and believe in yourself.
When you are feeling anxious, it can help to write your thoughts in a journal, drawing or doodling (the adult colouring books available now are great), meditation, exercise, massage therapy, soothing bubble bath, reading a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, sharing your thoughts with someone who cares or attending a support group to share feelings and thoughts with peers can help to manage the impact of anxiety.
You have to find some light when life is dark, remember...
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of time, if one only remembers to turn on the light."
(Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling)
For more help on managing anxiety go to www.anxiety.co.uk
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About Rachel Durrant
Rachel Durrant, BACP reg. BSc(Hons). Adult, Adolescent and Child Counsellor working in Surrey.