Anxiety: Are you committed to changing things?
Anxiety is a feeling which can range from discomfort to a terrible gnawing fear.
It often brings repetitive or intrusive thoughts, thinking the worst will happen, thinking in absolute terms - it always happens or I am bound to make a mistake. Anxiety is also likely to make it difficult to relax, to focus on things, to sleep well, to enjoy things fully and to feel good about yourself.
We often have stresses in our lives ranging from mild inconveniences such as traffic jams to things such as illness, loss, relationship difficulties or pressure at work. When lots of things pile up it can be difficult to cope with all the stresses, and we may find ourselves worrying a lot. This can become habitual and anxiety may cause panic attacks or feeling that we cannot cope with things at all. Sometimes when growing up we have not learnt resilience or coping well with adversity, which may mean it is even more problematic when life gets difficult.
To overcome anxiety, first of all, you need to be committed to changing things. This does not mean changing your values or who you are, but your responses and your coping mechanisms.
Exercise is a brilliant antidote to anxiety as it helps you to relax, get a natural tiredness and to burn off some of the steam accumulated in our often sedentary lives. If you possibly can, try and exercise 2-3 times a week, for around 30 minutes as this will help you feel in control, give some relief from worry and help lift your mood. It is something to keep doing, not just when you are anxious as this builds your resilience physically and emotionally.
Learn a relaxation technique. There are lots of free apps for mindful meditation, relaxation and body scan relaxation. Youtube has a wealth of them. If you are analogue – buy a CD or a tape. Practise this at least daily to begin with and when you find it is becoming easier then perhaps you can reduce the number of times. Just don't stop! Relaxation or meditation give your mind a break. It allows you to switch off. It gives you a technique for focusing your attention. It brings you into the present. Anxiety is always in the past or the future. Continuing to use relaxation or meditation increases your resilience to stress and will help you cope.
Start noticing your feelings. Take some time every day- a few times a day to tune into yourself - just like an old-fashioned radio. Scan your body with your mind, notice areas of tension (we often feel our feelings in our tummy or chest). What is it like? Tight? Loose? Neutral? What is that tension telling you? Is something bothering you? If we begin to notice our feelings, we can respond to them. If we ignore them and push them down, they tend to nip round the back and come back again.
Ask yourself “What do I need?”. Is the thing bothering me, something I can change? What is needed? When can I do this? Do I need to take care of myself – this can be anything from a chat with a friend or loved one, a cuppa, a walk, some quiet time, a hug - but learn how to be a good caretaker for your own needs.
Write things down. This gives you an emotional distance. If you are really struggling just stick to the facts without evaluating or judging. If you want a list, make a list. You can add what you want to do and when if this helps.
Feeling the feeling of worry and letting it wash over you just for one minute works for some people. Just noticing how it feels, it’s strength and then moving away, by carrying out a distracting activity can help.
Feeling overwhelmed? Then break things down. We can't cope with all of life at once so break things into small chunks and do them step by step. Acknowledge your progress. Give yourself affirmation - and keep going. You can only climb a mountain by starting with a step.
Finally – try becoming your own cheerleader/coach/mentor. Treat yourself as you would treat someone you were helping or supporting. Give yourself encouragement and coping statements – well done, you can do it, just keep trying. Give yourself rewards for your achievements and notice them each day. If you have a supportive family member or friend perhaps they can help too. If you struggle, give yourself a break and set another time to have a go. Take it at your own pace and be kind to yourself. We feel much better when we are compassionate to ourselves.