People tend to throw the word ‘anxiety’ around but do we fully appreciate what anxiety is and just how scary it can be?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, nervousness or fear, many individuals experience from time to time.
It may leave you feeling physically uncomfortable or tense, and when it’s more severe the physical sensations can be very strong such as feeling sick or feeling tightness in your chest.
It can also affect the way we think about things. When we are anxious the world can seem like a frightening place, every situation can feel fraught with danger and your mind can take you to the “worst case scenario” on a regular basis.
With all this going on in your body and your mind, anxiety may start to affect your behaviour.
For example, you might avoid seeing people or going to certain places, you might start working late because you are anxious about completing tasks, or checking your emails late into the evening just in case you miss something.
Sometimes anxiety can become severe and anxiety can take many different forms such as social anxiety, health anxiety, specific phobias, panic attacks, and generalised anxiety to highlight a few, so if you are affected by anxiety don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Here are some tips for helping to cope with anxiety:
When we get anxious, the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is activated. This response is the body’s way of protecting you in a threatening situation.
It is a series of changes in the body including the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate which are designed to make you stronger (fight) or help you to move faster (flight).
These responses are both effective if we are under attack, but not appropriate if you are going to the supermarket.
Breathing deeply can help the body settle down to its natural equilibrium. I think it is helpful to imagine you are blowing up a balloon of your favourite colour.
Take a deep breath in and notice how your stomach rises as you inhale which allows your lungs to take in maximum air, then let out a long, slow, breath out as if you are filling your balloon with air, and do this 3 times.
Question Your Thoughts
Our mind can play tricks on us when we are anxious and our thinking can become distorted. For example, an abrupt email from your boss may lead you to think that you have made a mistake, or a friend failing to return a text may lead you to think that they are not talking to you.
Before you accept the thought, which will undoubtedly fuel your anxiety, ask yourself is this anxious thought “a fact or an opinion?” If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.
When we get anxious about things, we are often making a negative prediction about what will happen.
For example, I can’t go to that party on my own because no one will talk to me and they will think I’m a loser.
If you make negative predictions, be like a scientist and test it out or how will you ever know if your prediction was right?
Anxiety is an uncomfortable emotion and many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation they fear so that they don’t experience the anxiety. For example, some people avoid driving on a motorway because they fear being hit by a lorry.
However, when you avoid situations you are not dealing with the anxiety, so life can become increasingly difficult. Eventually, you may end up in a situation you are trying to avoid additional situations.
Because you haven’t dealt with the fear, the anxiety feels even worse. So face your fear. You will feel anxious but if you repeatedly face it your body adjusts to what you fear and your physical anxiety decreases.
If facing your fear is daunting, try breaking it down into small steps, for example, drive on a motorway for one junction, do this repeatedly until you notice your anxiety reduce, then increase it to 2 junctions etc.
Anxiety, though uncomfortable, is a normal emotion and no matter how much you want to get rid of it, we all feel anxious from time to time.
Accepting anxiety, can be just like accepting that sometimes we feel angry, or sometimes we feel sad and sometimes we feel happy, and just like those other emotions anxiety will pass.
However, if your anxiety is long-term and affecting your day-to-day life you shouldn’t just accept it in order to feel better, you should seek support.