Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience, during times of excited anticipation, or at times of being under extreme stress or threat.
Not all anxiety is bad, it is in fact a healthy emotion that we all need as a means of self-preservation and knowing when we might be in danger so that we can respond appropriately.
An acute response to threat is also known as the fight or flight response, this is the feeling we experience when we are faced with something physically or mentally challenging and is a natural human response. Our bodies prepare a physiological response to stay and face the fear, or flight, when the situation is too overwhelming therefore retreating or avoiding the perceived threat when it feels like the safest option.
Stress experts are now also including the response of freeze – similar to the expression of a deer being caught in the headlights when we become frozen or temporarily paralysed during a traumatic or anxiety provoking experience.
Other physical responses to the fight, flight or freeze response includes an increase of adrenaline, tension of the muscles, an increased heart rate, sweating and shallow or rapid breathing.
Although feeling anxiety is a normal and healthy response in certain situations, there are times when it becomes an unhealthy or debilitating response.
Anxiety stems from a perceived threat or a perceived notion of being in danger disproportionate to tangible events. Our bodies are not always able to know the difference between our perception of being in danger and actual threat, which is why often the physiological response is the same.
Anxiety can lead to distressing or irrational thoughts and it is common to experience anxiety alongside other mental health issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder or suicidal ideation.
Anxiety can feel extremely uncomfortable, people often compare the feeling to having a heart attack or being unable to breath. As uncomfortable and overwhelming as it feels, it is a feeling that can and will pass.
Below are ten very simple tips that you can incorporate into your daily life to help relieve heightened feelings of anxiety.
1. Breathing exercise
It sounds very simple but breathing exercises are the quickest and easiest way to relieve anxiety and stress, it can be done pretty much anywhere, at anytime without being too obvious, even when you are in a social environment. Physiologically it slows down your heart rate and calms you down. Think: slow and steady deep breaths, some people find it helpful to count to five (in your head, not out loud), but do what feels comfortable for you.
2. Diet and lifestyle
During times of stress it can be tempting to turn to comfort eating, alcohol or drugs, but these will have the opposite effect of making you feel relaxed or calmer in the long run. It might feel good in the short-term, but essentially caffeine and alcohol make anxiety symptoms worse. There are physical and mental health benefits to including regular exercise into your lifestyle. Exercise releases endorphins, a natural feel good hormone which helps to relieve stress, improve concentration and sleep.
3. Grounding exercise
A grounding exercise is used to regulate the body and bring you into the here and now, and away from irrational thoughts or extreme thinking. This can be as simple as drinking a cold glass of water, which regulates the nervous system. Alternatively, try the 54321 technique it is often used in cases of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Name out loud: 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
4. Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a person who you can trust to let them know how you are feeling. Feeling alone and isolated in addition to overwhelming negative thoughts can exacerbate anxious feelings.
5. Don’t believe everything you think
It’s okay to challenge your negative beliefs, look for actual evidence for the negative thought in the moment. Is it an accurate reflection of what is happening or are you overthinking or catastrophising something that may never happen?
6. Listen to relaxing or soothing music
Music can have a powerful impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Creating and listening to a playlist can help as a natural reliever of stress and anxiety, find the music that appeals to you to help you feel calmer and more relaxed.
7. Go outside in nature
Studies have shown that there are many physical and emotional benefits to being outside in nature. It improves mental health, relieves anxiety and depression and best of all, it’s free.
There are many apps that introduce the practice of mindfulness and meditation, such as Calm or Heads Space. This includes easy-to-follow breathing exercises, exercises on focusing and becoming aware of your body. There are even colouring books for adults, specifically designed for relaxation and relieving stress and anxiety.
When you have racing thoughts, it can be helpful to write about how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. It can be very therapeutic to see your thoughts written down to try and make sense of your experience. It can also be an empowering tool to be able to actively challenge negative anxious thoughts and perhaps establish more pro-active ways of relieving your anxiety.
When you have a bad day it might be a natural response to feel bad about it and think of yourself as less than worthy or a failure. Think how you would treat a friend and the kind words you might offer in order to make them feel better. Use this same caring and compassion for yourself and it can really help change your mind-set.
If you experiencing anxiety it can be very helpful to talk to a counsellor to understand more about your specific anxiety, and find better ways of coping. To book your consultation, call or email today.
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