Tips for Managing Anxiety
Everyone has experienced some form of anxiety in their life. Whether it be nervousness before an exam or job interview, a first date, or speaking in public, it’s a relatable feeling. We live in a fast paced environment with many responsibilities and we try to manage multiple things at once. There’s an unspoken expectation that we are always available through the use of cell phones, social media, and email. We are then left feeling pressure to try and do more in a short amount of time. Anxiety can be healthy and productive motivating us to complete tasks. However, it can also be paralyzing and overwhelming. When anxiety gets in the way of our daily functioning and negatively affects eating, sleeping, socializing, etc. is when it becomes problematic.
Anxiety Disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Separation Anxiety, Social Anxiety, and Phobias. Anxiety is usually created with a fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, and a desire to manage and control something that is ultimately out of our control.
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety is the #1 mental health issue in America and women are twice as likely to experience anxiety. The good news is, Anxiety Disorders are treatable but there needs to be a conscious effort to manage symptoms and a willingness to change. The best success rate for treating an anxiety disorder is with a combination of therapy and medication but anxiety can also be managed by practicing some daily coping mechanisms and creating an imaginary tool box to help you feel your best.
Here are some examples:
First, never allow yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Bored. I call this HALT B. If you notice you are starting to feel fatigue or agitation, check in with yourself and adjust. Proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise are even more important for people experiencing mental health issues.
Acceptance of limitations is key. Often times people get angry with themselves when they experience intense anxious symptoms — shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts, and feel frustrated with limitations. They try to push the anxiety away and as a result, this usually makes symptoms worse. Take a moment and accept that you are feeling anxious and try to ride it out verses fighting it. Be gentle with yourself. Depersonalize the anxiety and think about what you would say to a friend or a child who was experiencing the same thing. Sometimes we are nicer to others than to ourselves.
Replace automatic negative thoughts. One anxious thought can lead to a downward spiral of dozens more. Get a journal out and write down the anxious thought, then replace it with three more realistic thoughts. For example, negative thought: I can never get anything done. Replacement thought: Never is an absolute. I get many things done such as….Writing down positive mantras can also be helpful. Easy does it. This too shall pass. In this moment, all is well. Flow of consciousness, and purging anxious thoughts on paper first thing in the morning or before bed gives structured time to give yourself “permission” to worry and then put it away. Usually when people do this exercise, they report things didn’t seem as bad as they made them up to be in their head.
Ask for Help: We don’t have to do anything alone. Talk through your anxiety with a friend, a partner, or a professional. Problem solving can lessen anxious symptoms as well as help you feel a sense of support.
Focus on someone or something else as a distraction. Naturally, as human beings we are egocentric. Life is so much bigger than just ME. Call a friend and check in on how they are doing. Cook a meal and practice core mindfulness, really see the food, observe the smell, taste a variety of flavors, feel the texture, and listen to the crunch. If you truly practice another activity, you will notice your anxiety will start to dissipate.
Breathe. The worst thing someone can say to a person experiencing anxiety is, just breathe. It comes off as generic and usually makes the person feel more anxious. However, breathing truly does work if you are doing it right. The best time to practice is when you are not in an anxious state. It can help to set the foundation to avoid anxiety as well as make it easier to implement in an anxious state. Sit in a chair with both feet on the floor, shoulders relaxed. Interlace your fingers and place them on your stomach. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable, and inhale through your nose, visualizing your stomach filling like a balloon with air and then exhale. On the exhale, imagine you are blowing a feather across the room. Repeat several times until you start to feel more relaxed.
Recover and Reset. Reward yourself when you come out of an anxious state with something as little as your favorite TV show. Get a massage. Buy a new shirt. Wrap your arms around your body and give yourself a hug. Look in the mirror and say, you got this!