Words of Encouragement (11):
*Practical tips to help manage anxiety*
I’m sure many of us have experienced feelings of anxiety and stress around this new situation we find ourselves thrust into in 2020. Although there is a lot that is outside the realm of our control, and that can make things feel very frightening at times, we can do some practical things to help us to manage feelings of anxiety better. Here are three for you to focus on today:
1. Breathing / ‘breath work’.
I know this can sound overly simple, but trust me….I have years of experience in overcoming the ‘anxiety monster’! When we are in a state of stress and anxiety, our bodies can get stuck in a state of ‘fight / flight / freeze’. Anxiety and fear can contribute to lashing out, retreating, or becoming immobilized and ‘stuck’. There is a lot of science behind this regarding the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, the production of certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, for instance, and the different brain states that respond to threat (or perceived threat), and the resultant physiological responses. We don’t need to go into detail about that here, but these are all connected to your feelings of stress, tension, increased heartrate, sweating, racing thoughts and ‘catastrophic’ thinking, and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows what it is like to experience these first hand, and if you have ever experienced a panic attack, then we’re on the same page here. You might find yourself breathing irregularly, pacing up or down, or just unable to concentrate. Being told to ‘calm down’ isn’t really going to help you, but knowing *how* to calm yourself down *will* help.
So what at first might sound over simplified, in focusing on your breathing, is actually very effective, as it changes the state of your body, your brain states and hormone production and release.
Anyway, enough of the ‘theory stuff’….here’s a practical exercise.
You’re most likely breathing from your chest up, but you need to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose so that your belly rises (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a count of 5, and exhale slowly and completely through your mouth so that your belly goes in, expelling the air for a count of 7. These numbers are indications, you can do what works for you, but make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in breath…that’s important (and there’s science -y stuff behind that too 😉 ). Repeat as often as needed and your body and brain will gradually ‘switch’ states from fight/flight/freeze to a calmer state which will in turn help you to manage your thoughts better.
Pay attention to your five senses, and take time over each one. Some people don’t like the term ‘mindfulness’, but really it is just paying attention, noticing things, and once again changing your brain and body states which is very effective in managing anxiety and the often accompanying racing thoughts. You could try the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ method and work your way slowly through 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 that you can smell and one that you can taste.
Alternatively, you can focus on one object and really take in the details of it, and this will help you to return to a calmer state.
3. Creative distraction
This can be incredibly helpful, especially if you build it up over time, although there can be immediate results on a smaller scale, to help you in that moment. Whether it is drawing, colouring, cooking, painting, playing a musical instrument, or even (less creative perhaps) tidying up, this will help you with attention, problem solving, and focus and using your hands productively will also have a calming effect if you are struggling with anxiety.
Try to incorporate these into your day to day life, even in small ways here and there, and build up your own ‘toolkit’ and adapt it to your own needs. There are so many resources out there, and different ones that will suit you individually, hopefully you will find something that fits your needs, or can connect with a friend, family member or group who can help to point you in the right direction.
Keep calm and carry on 😉