Snippets and key points taken from a guest post I wrote for MYNDUP featuring the top ten strategies for coping with anxiety.
Anxiety is that feeling of excess worry, fear and unease around things that are about to happen, or which we believe might happen. Having anxiety can feel different to everyone because our bodies might perceive a situation, and react to it, in a way that is entirely different to someone else. But everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives because it’s a natural human response to stress, and perceived danger, or threat.
You might notice that your anxiety is sporadic and only really occurs before a particular event or situation in your life. Alternatively, your anxiety might be a more long-term build-up of overthinking that requires support of a therapist or someone you trust, particularly if it’s impacting your ability to live your life fully. Understanding your personal triggers can often be quite challenging and involves self-reflection and awareness. But identification of these triggers can help you determine which of the coping strategies, listed below, will help you in managing and overcoming your anxiety.
1. Get to know your anxiety
Keeping a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings freely can really help to understand patterns and self-analyse behaviours. By doing so, you can confidently determine when your anxiety levels are at their highest or lowest. Writing emotions down, and tuning in to anxiety triggers in this way, such as caffeine, alcohol consumption or certain situations can help you proactively manage your symptoms and limit your exposure to these.
2. Focus on the moment.
Mindfulness is something we often hear about but rarely practice through fear that we’re somehow doing it wrong. But by taking a few moments to shift your busy mind to become the observer of your thoughts, simply imagining them floating by, enables you to detach from them and focus on the present moment. By becoming aware of what is happening right here, right now, you reduce the overwhelming worries you have about the future and bring yourself back to a state of calm. Try to incorporate the little words “right now” whenever your mind does wander. For example, “right now, I’m enjoying this cup of tea” or “right now, I’m making dinner.” Accept that big changes are inevitable but choose to stay grounded and present on the current moment whenever your mind starts to wander. worries you have about the future and bring yourself back to a state of calm. Try to incorporate the little words “right now” whenever your mind does wander.
3. Replace negative self-talk
It’s so easy to instantly default to negative self-talk whenever we feel anxious. We immediately overthink a situation and imagine the outcome far worse than it probably is. But how you think towards an event will affect how you experience it and becoming aware of your self-talk allows you to change your thought patterns to more constructive and helpful thoughts. Challenge negative thoughts of self-doubt whenever you find yourself thinking “what if it doesn’t work or what if I fail?” Reframe it, and choose to question instead “well, what if it does work and what if I do succeed?”
4. Control the controllable... and let the rest go
It can be really hard to stop worrying about things when you have anxiety and instantly expect the worst possible outcomes. But understand that there are certain things you have no control over in life. A lot of the time we worry about things that never happen. Accept that worry and stress over things that are out of your control is wasted energy. Instead focus on the present and what you can do in this moment to stay happy. Set aside specific time to worry or alternatively write your worries in a notebook, that way you will begin to feel more in control of them.
5. Be kind to yourself
Imagine all the past versions of yourself standing in-front of you. The one who got rejected from a job interview, the one who cried themselves to sleep, the one who was seemingly broken beyond repair from a breakup or the one who embarrassed themselves when giving a presentation to a group of people. Remind yourself of all the painful experiences that you didn’t think you would get through, until you did. You are not the anxiety you’re experiencing. You are so much stronger than you imagine. And you’ll get through this challenge, the same way you got to this point today.
6. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough quality sleep, socialising with friends and family and participating in activities we enjoy are all effective ways of reducing stress and anxiety because of the feel-good emotions they foster. Physical activity in particular increases your endorphins and ability to adopt positive thoughts and emotions, allowing you to feel generally happier and more satisfied in life.
7. Slow down your breathing
Often when we feel anxious our breathing can speed up or reduce altogether. But breathing exercises can instantly make you feel more in control by slowing down your heart rate and helping to calm you down. Whenever you find yourself stressed, try breathing in for seven seconds, then out for eleven seconds. Or alternatively imagine a square, breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding for four seconds. Find a breathing technique that works for you and encourages you to relax and regain calm in a challenging situation.
8. Connect with others
Often, we can feel so isolated with our worries and as though we are dealing with them alone which can in turn lead us to pull away from social events and isolate ourselves during times of increased stress and pressure. But connecting with others can help to remind you that you aren’t alone in anything you do. Socialising, volunteering or pursuing an activity you enjoy, will increase your sense of belonging and purpose. And often, by focusing on these events, you’re able to busy your mind from overthinking.
9. Participate in talk therapy
If your anxiety is long-term and deeper rooted it can be helpful to speak to someone who can assist in discovering your anxiety triggers. Sometimes our triggers may be obvious like caffeine or substance abuse. Or they may be less obvious such as deep-rooted family or financial pressures. Limiting exposure to triggers can help you manage anxiety and talking through your problems with a therapist will help you to look at them in a different way and feel more able to cope with them.
10. Seek cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective tool in the treatment of long-term anxieties and panic disorders. It combines both thought patterns and actions towards events, in order to address the assumptions that you might have created and the view of the world, and yourself, that this has created. Similar to talk therapy, whilst unable to make problems completely disappear, it can encourage you to adopt healthier habits, respond to problems more positively and feel better overall.