Practical tools to manage anxiety
Experiencing anxiety when you don’t know how best to come through it or how to regain a sense of ease with your situation can feel extremely debilitating. It can also feel a little scary when you’re feeling the discomfort of the situation without having a clear sense of what‘s actually happening to you. Anxiety is a physical reaction, the physical sensations we experience are how our bodies respond to something we fear. Most commonly these can be thoughts about something we fear happening, facing specific situations or reactions we anticipate experiencing. It’s our body’s natural way of alerting us to threat, except that in the case of anxiety, the threat tends to be something we fear happening rather than something unfolding in the here-and-now.
The kinds of events, thoughts or situations than can give rise to anxiety are all highly individual. What is clear is that having a set of tools to help us through it is incredibly useful. I’d like to share a few things to consider in tackling anxiety. Some of these you’ll be able to do by yourself, others you may need the support of a counsellor. Not all will apply to your specific situation, but hopefully there’ll be enough for you to consider what the next step for you might be:
Attention to breath
When you’re experiencing a moment of anxiety make sure your breath is long and smooth, with the out-breath always longer than the in-breath. This can help during a difficult moment. For longer-term benefits you may want to consider some kind of meditation practice, such as vipassana. To start with this doesn’t have to take very long, five to ten minutes a day can be very helpful. With practice it’ll get easier and you’ll be able to reap long-term benefits. There are many meditation centres in the UK. A counsellor can also support you to adapt a meditation practice to your own specific needs.
Engaging with the situation
Through understanding the fear, any past experiences, expectations and contributory factors we can get a sense of the whole situation. By engaging with your experience in this way, counselling can help you work through any aspects which may feel challenging, gain a greater sense of ease with it, and support you to meet your situation in a way that may be more helpful to you.
These can be very helpful when dealing with anxiety which is linked to stress. There are many resources available online. The difference in working with a counsellor is that together you can bespoke a visualisation specific to your situation.
Exercise, movement and energy
Much talked about, very important and easy to do by yourself. This is why movement is important: As we start to think about a feared situation, our body gets ready to address the situation. As the fear tends to be a thought or situation that doesn’t get acted upon, the energy builds and doesn’t discharge, giving rise to the uncomfortable feelings. Movement and exercise are an excellent means to discharge this energy. Also, while we engage with our bodies more, we tend to engage less with thoughts that aren’t helpful. In some forms of counselling, such as gestalt therapy, movement can also be used mindfully which, if needed, would arise naturally in the exploration to work through anything which may be contributing to the situation.
Attending to our thoughts creatively
The thoughts we entertain, assumptions or beliefs we hold are often pretty central to working with anxiety, and usually make up the framework which holds the anxiety in place. So understanding what’s happening for you and working through these with someone who can help you to identify alternative perspectives, challenge restrictive beliefs whilst supporting you in these places of fear or vulnerability can be enormously helpful.
Diet and lifestyle
It also pays to be aware of any external stressors, health issues, diet or lifestyle which may be exacerbating or contributing to your anxiety. For example, cutting down on sugar, salt, coffee or alcohol, can make a big difference. To work out whether these could be contributory factors start by noticing whether your anxiety increases or decreases on days when you consume more or less of these. You may want to consult with your GP if you feel this is an area that needs attention.
Talking with someone who will support your feelings can be enormously helpful. The key is understanding your own specific experience so you may get the support you need to experience a greater sense of ease in your situation and your life. The main thing to remember is that there are many resources and support available and you don’t need to be going through this by yourself.
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