Anxiety and How To Manage It
- Posted by wellness
Research suggests over 8 million people in the UK experience a form of anxiety at any one time*. In the United States anxiety affects 42.5 million people**. The pandemic era ushered in new challenges for people globally; according to the World Health Organisation, anxiety and depression rose by 25% in the first year alone.
This increasing phenomenon manifests in various guises, such as generalised anxiety. social anxiety, separation anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress just to name a few. Yet fear and anxiety are our body’s natural, normal, and very necessary responses to stress or perceived threat. They are functions of the nervous system’s “fight-flight” response, which for millions of years has protected humans from danger and can be credited to the survival of the human race. Just imagine if our prehistoric ancestors weren’t alert to potential dangers or threats. They would have been devoured by predators in no time.
The problem we face in today’s modern society, is that the stressful or dangerous situations we encounter may not necessarily be life-threatening, but our brains still process them in the same way. Given the perceived threats we are exposed to daily, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed with fear and anxiety often getting the better of us.
Furthermore, when our brains are constantly in the fight, flight, freeze mode (the three main responses triggered by the amygdala, the major emotional processing centre of the brain), we constantly produce the stress hormone, adrenaline. Our body is so intelligent; it knows its primary role is keeping us alive. So, it stops prioritising other functions like digestion, tissue repair, reproductive and growth hormone production and focuses on the most crucial priorities, like producing adrenaline.
So, how can we shift from these states of fear, overwhelm, and anxiety which activate our sympathetic nervous system, and move into a more relaxed, calm, and reasonable state by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system?
Recognise That Fear and Anxiety Are Normal Reactions of the Brain.
Once you understand that your body was designed to experience such emotions and that they play a crucial role in our survival, accepting them becomes a lot easier. It is only when your emotional balance is disturbed that you feel overwhelmed. However, when you are self-aware and can recognise when it occurs, you can better manage it. With the right tools and techniques, it can be managed. It also encourages you to judge the experience less and be more accepting of yourself and others.
Live in the Now, the Present Moment as Much as Possible.
Anxiety is generally characterised by worrying about something in the future, which has not yet happened. Mindfulness training can help, because with regular practice and commitment, you become aware of your thoughts, feelings, triggers, behaviours and situations without being consumed by them. In other words, you witness what is going on like an observer, feel more in control of yourself, and are able to choose how you want to respond. Practicing for just five minutes a day can help and the best thing is, you don’t need to find the time to do it. Mindfulness techniques can be inserted into your everyday routines. (see article An Introduction to Mindfulness and the benefits it can bring: https://www.wellnessfor-life.com/an-introduction-to-mindfulness-and-the-benefits-it-can-bring/)
Use Your Breath to Manage the Physiological and Psychological Effects of Fear, Stress, Anxiety or Overwhelm.
As mentioned earlier, when we experience stress or perceived threat, our nervous system triggers the fight, flight, freeze response – the sympathetic nervous system. To balance this, we can place our hands on to our lower stomach and breathe into it slowly, calmly, and deeply until it rises, like you are trying to inflate a balloon. Inhale and then when you exhale, slowly allow the belly to come back down to its original position. Also known as “belly breathing”, this breathing technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system and shifts us into a relaxed, calm state. There is considerable value in practicing this technique every day as a prevention of anxiety.
Challenge Negative Thoughts and Sabotaging Self Talk.
When we experience fear or anxiety, our thoughts tend to gravitate towards the negative and become distorted. Added to this is the multitude of “characters” that play out in our minds in the form of negative self talk – you know the ones: the “you aren’t good enough, you can’t do that, you will fail, that’s so bad” type of chatter. It’s no wonder so many of us procrastinate or don’t do what we really want to in our life. In these moments, challenge the validity of these thoughts and write them down if you must. Then you can consider more balanced, encouraging, or positive alternatives that can help you to move forward with more ease and less doubt.
Create Healthy Sleep Patterns
Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and there’s nothing worse than waking up and starting your day feeling tired. Establish a regular sleep routine and aim to sleep at least seven to eight hours per night. Of course, everybody is different and has different requirements, so what works for one person may vary from what works for another. It is important to create a calming sleep environment and practice good sleep hygiene. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and electronic devices close to bedtime.
Exercise Regularly and Release Those Endorphins
When you engage in regular physical activity, you boost the production of the body’s “feel-good”, stress-busting neurotransmitters, also known as endorphins. Not only do they help with stress management, but they also act as natural pain relievers, too. Exercise also encourages the brain to release serotonin, a mood enhancer that helps to reduce anxiety and increase optimism and happiness. The challenge you might encounter is sticking to a regular exercise routine. When you find activities that you truly enjoy – those that make you feel alive and energised, rather than exercising for the sake of exercising – you are likely to engage in them more frequently.
Seek Social Support from People you Trust
Although this can be difficult to do, reaching out to trusted friends, family members, colleagues or support groups can help to alleviate anxiety and overwhelm. Although the stigma surrounding mental health is slowly lessening, it is still prevalent in most societies. However, having the courage to share your feelings, thoughts, or struggles with people you can confide in, can be comforting and can help you to gain perspective on your situation. Knowing that you are not alone and having a support system in place can be reassuring.
Seek Appropriate Professional Help
If stress and anxiety significantly impact your daily life, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance, therapy, or medication if necessary. It is essential to find the right support for you. Invest your efforts into researching this, as it could save you a lot of time and money in the long run. It is also recommended to speak with as many professionals as you need to before making a decision. This way you can get a feel for them, their work, and their character and gauge how well you relate to them.
Today anxiety is exasperated by the cost-of-living crisis, the increasing fear around wars and political unrest, the emergence of artificial intelligence, and everything else we are exposed to in the media. All this (and more) can greatly impact our thoughts, our emotional and mental well-being, and our quality of life. Practicing self-care, being kind to ourselves, and harnessing positivity can be great antidotes to any mental health challenges we might endure. The key lies in recognising and acknowledging that feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed at certain moments in time does not define who we are. By implementing appropriate strategies, techniques, and coping mechanisms it is possible to effectively manage and alleviate anxiety. Embrace these tools and empower yourself to face anxiety with resilience, knowing that you have the capacity to cultivate a more peaceful and fulfilling life. You can make this your reality. Start now.
* Mental Health UK **Mental Health America