Anxiety pangs - what they are and how to manage them
Ever been worried about something that you're not sure about? Ever had a feeling of 'trepidation' in the pit of your stomach that just will not go away? Have you ever had thoughts rattling around in your head, that nagging doubt that asks, "What are people saying about me?", "Have I forgotten something?", or "Do they think I'm stupid?"
Welcome to the world of anxiety. It sucks. It's the one emotion that seems to be out of control. You wake in the middle of the night, or the early hours of the morning. You can't eat because your mouth is too dry. You can't even think straight because of all those jumbled words racing around your mind.
Anxiety makes you feel despair and hopeless. It stops you from doing the stuff you love just in case it doesn't work out or something goes wrong.
What is anxiety?
Have you tried looking directly at that sensation that you get in your stomach? Have you ever stopped to think why your hands become clammy? Or tried to figure out how to slow down your racing heart?
In a nutshell, anxiety can be related to stress. It comes from a time when we were (supposedly) hunting and gathering on the vast plains and in the dense forests. It's part of that 'fight/flight' mechanism, or if you prefer 'instinct'. And, surprisingly, it's really designed to save you from predators.
Anxiety isn't noticed by busy people, because all those sensations that anxiety gives you are burned up in the energy that is used. The busy person and the athlete are folks that probably know how it works. A busy person focuses on the task in hand. They run around, doing loads of things that keep their days organised. The athlete is focused on exercises that improve their muscle power or footwork. Of course, these folk may experience stress, or burn-out, at some point, but their anxiety is mostly used up.
However, if you're the type of person who holds onto your emotions, bottles up resentments, and stays silent when someone is being nasty to you - that's when you're going to have all these symptoms and become a victim to them.
Anxiety, in itself, is not good or bad. It's an emotional reaction to a situation that is considered to be unpleasant. Those emotions are telling you that you are developing and growing. You can feel the sensations of anxiety and react in the moment or, you can learn to respond to it by using a different part of your brain.
Identifying those emotions that cause us upset and learning how to deal with them are the key ingredients to a healthier approach to anxiety.
How do you identify anxiety?
Anxiety can be divided into two basic groups:
Psychic and cognitive: both relate to worry, apprehension, anticipation, fear, hyper-vigilance and poor concentration.
Physiological and behavioural: these relate to sensations like the tension you feel, an inability to relax, disturbed sleep, tiredness, avoidance of situations, and inhibitions.
If not checked, anxiety can lead to what is called a panic attack. You'll know when you're experiencing this by the physical sensations that grip your body. Those like heart palipitations, trembling or shaking, an inability to breathe, a sensation of being choked. You may have the feeling that you are losing control and are going to die.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to cope with these experiences.
Here are seven easy exercises you can start today to control your anxiety:
How to control anxiety:
- Hold your breath for 10-15 seconds. This prevents the spread of carbon dioxide.
- Exercise - running, fast walking, going up and down the stairs, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- 7/11 breathing technique - breathe in quickly and deeply to the count of seven (which gets you ready for action). Breathe out slowly to the count of 11 and consciously relax your muscles at the same time.
- Clench your fist - settle yourself in a chair and relax. Look at your fist and squeeze hard. Be aware of the whiteness of your skin, nails, and muscles of your hand. Notice the tension. Then relax your fingers, relax your wrist, and allow that feeling of relaxation to move up your arm, to your shoulder, neck, face, and whole body.
- Get better sleep - go to bed earlier, make the bedroom a place of peace, avoid drinking tea/coffee/alcohol late in the evening, avoid exercising at least two hours before bed, have a warm bath just before bed, wear earplugs, make sure you are warm in bed, have crisp clean sheets and comfy blankets surrounding you.
- Do something for yourself - learn to play an instrument or sing or dance, do some yoga, walk the dog, read to a child, or cook a special meal for yourself. When you do it, as you do it, consciously think of every action associated with that activity. Consciously take part in the activity with all your senses.
- Challenge those negative thoughts - when you find the words in your head begin to berate you, or put you down, think of them as a bully standing beside you. Straighten your back, breathe in and shout "stop!"
If you're finding it hard to manage your anxiety, counselling or therapy can be a great help. You can reach out to me to find out more. Furthermore, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you get a gift from me in the form of a downloadable book with loads of things to help you ease your anxiety!
Check out my website and be on your way to conquering those anxiety pangs!