Six ways to cope with anxiety
Anxiety is our modern-day response to fear. Read that sentence twice because this is crucial in understanding how we can treat anxiety. Fear is our innate survival response. Fear teaches us to avoid dangerous and threatening situations.
When our species only had a reptilian brain, fear kept us alive. Our amygdala in our brain sensed an incoming threat and set off a chain reaction to our bodies to run, fight or shut down (think animals in the wild when faced with a threat!).
In the last few million years, our brain has developed a new layer called the pre-frontal cortex or the 'thinking' part of our brain. Enter anxiety. Anxiety is when we try to predict (or think about) any possible future threats. The pre-frontal cortex helps us to plan ahead but if we are struggling to predict what might happen we try to work out all possible scenarios. Anxiety is signalling to us that our brain has predicted a threatening situation.
Threat can be external or an internal threat from overthinking, rumination and worry. When we feel fear, our reptilian or old part of our brain switches on the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response, which set our hearts racing, blood rushing to our extremities and our rational thinking brain offline.
This was useful when we were cave dwellers having to run from predators but, in the age that we are living in now, it is not useful to be in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. Now, we have more modern-day threats such as worries about paying bills, work and social pressures as well as the larger concerns about the political climate and covid. Our modern-day threats allow us to ruminate and overthink all situations thereby creating anxiety.
How do you break this and cope better with anxiety?
There are many ways that we can deal with anxiety. And not forgetting that anxiety looks different for everyone. Aside from talking therapy, there are ways that we can begin to help ourselves.
1. Look at what you can control in your life
Make a list of things that you can take action with that have been worrying you. Writing down your worries and fears can be a great way of realising that you might have been catastrophising your concerns. Plus, taking action can help you to feel more in control. If you have too many things to do and are feeling overwhelmed, look at what can you delegate or do another day.
2. Try breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can help to calm us down when we begin to feel anxious. Breathing in for the count of four, holding for four and breathing out for eight can begin to calm down the body. As we count, we are focusing on the breath and the count which can help to get our thinking brains back online.
3. Eat healthily
Healthy eating and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine can be steps towards lessening anxious feelings, as coffee and alcohol are stimulants and serve to increase anxiety. Eating food that can help us to regulate mood can all help. This includes eggs, brazil nuts, oily fish and yoghurt. These foods reduce inflammation in the body which can influence mood, stress and anxiety. Vitamin D and B complex also play an important role in this.
4. Keep a diary of thoughts and emotions
Doing this can help to work out which areas of our lives are causing the most worries and anxiety. Journaling can be cathartic too and can help to get our worries out onto paper.
5. Practice mindfulness
Being mindful simply means noticing the things around us from moment to moment to allow us to get back in touch with our senses. Being in each moment takes practice and starting with a few minutes a day can help to slow down the busy anxious thoughts. It makes sense to try to remain in the present moment since anxiety is all about worrying about the future.
6. Try a grounding technique
This technique can be a follow on from a breathing exercise to bring you into the present awareness.
Sitting with feet on the ground notice how solid the ground feels. Close your eyes and feel the chair beneath you. Relax your face, shoulders and neck. Notice your hands on your knees.
- How does the fabric feel against your hands?
- What can you hear?
- What can you taste?
- Notice your breath. Is it long or shallow?
- Do you feel it in your chest or nostrils? How does it feel?
Working with a therapist can help you to examine your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and help you to understand where your worries come from. The therapist will teach you a variety of techniques that can help you to challenge what you are thinking and alter how you view those thoughts. Understanding how to reframe your thoughts, beliefs and perceptions will alter how you feel and how you behave.
As well as this, a therapist can help teach you calming techniques amongst other strategies to help you to cope with anxiety and eventually enable you to lead a more fulfilling life free from fear.