Overwhelming anxiety? Strategies for short and long term change
Living with overwhelming anxiety can be a difficult and isolating experience. Anxiety can include intense feelings of being constantly on edge and can be accompanied by physical symptoms like sweating, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
It can also be a day-in and day-out sense of dread and fear which can impact both you and those around you. But there are steps you can take to manage your anxiety and live a fulfilling life, both by addressing symptoms in the short term and the underlying causes in the longer term. In this article, we'll discuss ways to achieve both of these aims.
Short-term symptom management
Short-term ‘fixes’ are a great way to begin to reduce the impact of some symptoms of anxiety on your day-to-day life. The list of things below are all good ways to start this process. Consistency is key – developing a few healthy habits and sticking with them will bring better results than simply trying everything and overwhelming yourself further.
Recognise your triggers
The first step in managing your anxiety is to recognise what triggers it. This might involve keeping a journal to track when and where you experience anxiety, and what thoughts and feelings accompany it. Common triggers include social situations, work or school stress, health concerns, and financial worries. Once you've identified your triggers, you can start to develop strategies for coping with them.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. This can be a powerful tool for managing anxiety, as it can help you to stay grounded and focused on what's happening right now, rather than worrying about the future. Try practising mindfulness meditation or simply taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. This can also help you accept feelings of anxiety and be less impacted by them as they arise and fade.
Exercise is a great way to manage anxiety, as it releases endorphins that can improve your mood and reduce stress. Shoot for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, most days of the week. Being outside in the fresh air, especially in nature, also helps us reconnect with ourselves in a positive way.
Get enough sleep
Sleep is essential for anxiety management, as it supports mood regulation and stress reduction. If possible, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and try to establish a regular sleep routine. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and electronics for at least an hour before bed, and create a calming bedtime ritual, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can help to reduce anxiety by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly. Try for a balanced wholefood diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Connect with others
Anxiety can be an isolating experience, but it's important to connect with others and build a support network. This might involve joining a support group, volunteering in your community, or simply spending time with friends and family. Building connections with others can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and provide a sense of belonging and purpose.
Self-care involves taking care of yourself in a way that promotes physical and emotional well-being. This might involve taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or spending time in nature. Self-care can help to reduce stress and anxiety and promote feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Try ‘and’ rather than ‘but’
Sometimes, the best way to move beyond anxiety is to accept it but hold it less tightly. Reframing anxiety as something which happens alongside events, instead of in opposition to them can make the anxiety more manageable. Think about the following language ‘I am looking forward to seeing my friends, but I am feeling anxious’ vs. ‘I am looking forward to seeing friends and I am also feeling anxious’. The first may make one feel like anxiety stops you from going out, and the second allows the possibility you can feel anxious but also see friends. Developing simple habits in the way of thinking can have a big impact.
Moving towards fundamental change
Living with anxiety can be challenging, but it's important to remember that you're not alone. By recognising your triggers, practising mindfulness, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, seeking professional help, connecting with others, and practising self-care, you can learn to manage your some of the symptoms. However, your anxiety didn’t appear from nowhere! Spending more time doing deeper work with a counsellor or therapist to uncover and confront the underlying roots of your anxiety can lead to longer-lasting, sustainable change. One approach particularly suited to this is psychodynamic counselling.
Psychodynamic counselling for anxiety
Psychodynamic counselling is a form of talk therapy that explores the unconscious processes that underlie our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. This approach can be particularly helpful for individuals experiencing anxiety, as it can help to identify and address the underlying causes of anxiety.
In psychodynamic counselling, the therapist works with the client to explore their past experiences, relationships, and emotions in order to uncover unconscious patterns that may be contributing to their anxiety. For example, the client may have experienced trauma or neglect in childhood that has left them feeling anxious and insecure. Or they may have developed certain coping mechanisms, such as avoidance or perfectionism, that are actually exacerbating their anxiety.
By exploring these unconscious processes, psychodynamic counselling can help individuals to gain insight into the root causes of their anxiety and develop more adaptive coping strategies. For example, the therapist may help the client to identify and challenge unresolved issues in one area of their life which lead to anxiety being expressed in another, even if the two seem unrelated at first.
One of the key benefits of psychodynamic counselling is that it can help individuals to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their emotions. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who have struggled with anxiety for many years, have been unable to identify the underlying causes or triggers, or find that symptomatic management is not enough. By exploring these deeper emotions, individuals can gain a greater sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and promote a greater sense of well-being.
Overall, psychodynamic counselling can be a highly effective approach for targeting the underlying causes of anxiety. By exploring unconscious processes and developing a deeper understanding of the self, individuals can learn to move beyond their anxiety in a more adaptive and sustainable way, and move towards a more fulfilling and meaningful life. If you're struggling with anxiety, consider seeking out a qualified psychodynamic therapist who can help you to explore these deeper issues and develop more effective coping strategies.
Ready to begin?
I support clients experiencing anxiety by taking a two-pronged approach – helping them develop habits and ways of thinking to address short-term symptoms, while also working on the deeper issues. If this sounds like it would help you, or you’d like to learn more, do get in touch today by clicking the contact me button below.