Recently I wrote a bit about anxiety – where it comes from and some of the symptoms. Many people find it reassuring to know that it’s not necessarily as random as it might appear, and that in many ways it’s the body’s way of trying to help us.
There are lots of ways to ease the symptoms of anxiety.
Identify your thoughts…
When anxiety gets the better of us it can feel like there is an incomprehensible tangle of thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms. It can be really helpful to try and pin these down. What goes on in your head when you feel anxious? Are there any phrases or words that you often hear? What happens to you physically? What are you feeling? Emotions are not necessarily black and white – you might experience a great deal of fear, but also some anger and sadness. Try and identify as much of what is going on as possible. It might help to keep a diary to jot ideas down as you notice them. Anxiety can seem to arrive at any time, but sometimes there are triggers that we don’t see at first. Keeping a diary can help to identify these triggers.
…..and challenge them.
There are certain styles of thinking that can be very unhealthy. You might identify a thinking pattern along the lines of
“if I say something in class I might get it wrong, everyone will think I’m stupid, they will all hate me, I’ll never have any friends, I’ll die alone”
This way of thinking would make anyone feel anxious! Thinking along these lines is also known as catastrophising. If we can identify unhealthy ways of thinking that are making us feel bad, we can challenge them.
- What is the evidence in favour of this thought?
- What is the evidence against?
- What would my best friend/ mum/ other wise or sensible person, real or fictional (Dumbledore?) say?
Get into the habit of seeing your thoughts for what they are (very often negative, irrational, unhealthy, unbalanced) and challenging them with your inner Dumbledore. More on Negative Automatic Thoughts here.
It can be very difficult to ask for help. We worry that we will be burdening others, or worrying them, or boring them. But sometimes just saying those anxious thoughts out loud really does diminish them. Most people want to help, so don’t be afraid to lean on others!
Seek talking therapy.
I know, I would say that. But it can help enormously to have an objective perspective on your worldview, someone who isn’t a close friend or family. Ironically, it can be easier to speak to someone who is stranger. On that note, consider calling the Samaritans if those around you seem too close to confide in. They really are completely anonymous, confidential and available all day and night.
Use a grounding technique.
When it feels like the contents of your head have taken over and are governing your mood and behaviour, it can help to ground yourself in the here-and-now. One simple technique is to look around you and find:
5 things that you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
and 1 good thing about yourself.
Remember what works for you.
We all have things that help when times are tough. In the heat of the moment it can be hard to remember what these are. Doing little things that make you feel good can ease symptoms of anxiety.
Breathing out for longer than you breath in helps the physical symptoms of anxiety by increasing carbon dioxide in the blood and lowering blood pressure. It’s the reason why a paper bag is traditionally used for a panic attack.
- Breath in through the nose for 7 counts
- Breath out through the mouth for 11 counts.
Other relaxation techniques including Mindfulness.
In mindfulness the mind is likened to a blue sky, across which clouds of thought are constantly passing. Mindfulness is about paying attention to these thoughts, not struggling to deny them, but acknowledging them and letting them pass along. In mindfulness practice we observe our thoughts in a curious and detached way, knowing that all thoughts and feelings are transitory and do not last. Headspace is an excellent app for your phone that can be used to guide you through mindfulness meditations.
Use your senses to self soothe.
You will be calming your body’s alert system, the amygdala, and reactivating the pre-frontal cortex enabling you to think rationally again.
- Look at a picture of a place you love, or a piece of art, or an old photo
- Watch your favourite film or telly programme
- Take a photo of something beautiful
- Listen to your favourite music
- Find some meditation music on youtube
- Make yourself your favourite meal or drink (avoiding alcohol and caffeine if possible)
- Run yourself a bubble bath
- Wrap up in a blanket
Be self compassionate.
It might sound fluffy but being kind to yourself can be an effective tool in the battle with the anxiety gremlin. It might feel unnatural or difficult at first, but keep an eye on your self talk and monitor for critical thoughts. When you notice them, gently challenge talk to yourself in the same way that you would talk to a good friend.