How can I manage my anxiety?

INTEGRATING THERAPEUTIC TEACHNIQUES INTO YOUR LIFE

Even though anxiety is uncomfortable and can be very distressing at times, it is a normal experience, and will often occur, so we need to learn to manage these difficult feelings. There are skills we can acquire to help us cope more easily when our anxiety is high. The following are some of these techniques, they are all well researched and so it will be easy to find information and further educate your self on these topics.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is based on Eastern religious philosophy. It requires paying attention to the present moment by focusing on your thoughts, and feelings and physical sensations long enough so that you can describe them. If you are able to describe how you feel, and put a name to it, you will be able to bring it more easily under control. It will loose its power over you since naming it, exposes it, and therefore makes it feel more normal, and acceptable.

Emotion regulation

Emotions can be overwhelming at times and so if we are emotionally depleted and physically exhausted we will be especially vulnerable to feeling out of control and acting impulsively. Don’t underestimate the value of getting enough sleep, exercising, and also eating healthy to help stabilize your mood. Read up on the glycemic index, and understand what this is so that you can avoid the kinds of foods that affect your blood sugar and cause glucose highs and lows that affect your thinking and mood. In addition to exercising healthy habits problem solving and active coping are also necessary techniques to help regulate your emotions.

Active coping involves introspection, the ability to look inward, and contemplate so you can become aware of what your stressors are, and then take action proactively to reduce your stress when you begin to feel it building. You may choose to use distraction, by taking a brisk walk for example, or perhaps doing jumping jacks or engaging in some from of relaxation. Sometimes holding a piece of ice in your hand for as long as you can, will help reduce your level of overwhelm. Problem solving, on the other hand, requires that you focus your attention on the problem and carefully consider all the different possible outcomes, so you are not caught unprepared.

If problem solving requires devising a plan, then also come up with an alternative plan just in case the one you want doesn’t happen. Even though it might cause you anxiety thinking about this possibility, your anxiety will be far worse if what you want doesn’t come to fruition, and you don’t have another plan to fall back on. If this were to happen, you would feel out of control, helpless and panicked.

Relaxing breath

Breathing is the foundation of every anxiety management technique because there is a connection between our body, mind, feelings, and actions. If we are able to change one of these variables then the others will automatically change too. The body has two control systems, one stimulates, and this is called the sympathetic system, and the other, which is called the parasympathetic system, has the function of calming. They cannot be activated simultaneously. If you activate the one the other will automatically de-activate, and, fortunately, deep breathing is the best way to induce activation of the calming system.

Slowing down your breath results in a decrease in heart rate and muscle tension. In turn, these physiological changes cause your thoughts to slow down, and your bodily sensations to calm down, the very conditions necessary to tolerate difficult situations. Mastering deep breathing requires practice so that during stressful times you can easily turn to using this skill, and quickly turn off the arousal system by turning on the relaxation system of the body. There are books and guided meditations, and smart phone applications that can help you with this. On this website I have created my own technique which can be downloaded. It integrates imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and deep breathing, which can be completed in less than ten minutes.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This is a technique that focuses on the body. The purpose is to learn to feel the difference between muscle tension and relaxation in your body, so you can learn to recognize when tension is building and do something to manage it before it becomes overwhelming. If any of you have experienced cramps in your calf or feet, more commonly known as a Charlie Horse, you will know that the muscle suddenly becomes hard and tight and is very painful. Sometimes though, you can feel the spasm coming on and quickly do something proactively to keep it from happening, like flexing your feet or your toes. If you don’t act quickly enough though the spasm cannot be prevented, and neither will the after-effects. This is why it’s beneficial to recognize your stress building so you can do something to intervene and bring down the level so it doesn’t overwhelm and cause emotional reverberations.

Developing a wise mind

We are all susceptible to making unwise decisions when they are driven purely by emotion. Good decision-making requires a combination of reason and feeling. It involves a balance between the intuition and the intellect. Always be clear on the motivations that underlie your actions. Know what it is that you want to achieve, and examine if what you choose is the best decision to get what you want. Never act impulsively or feel justified to act if you have a negative feeling.

Increasing emotional language

Increasing your emotional language is helpful to understand and express your feelings. Language is empowering, it is frustrating not to have the words to communicate what you feel. Frustration often leads to aggressive outbursts, and aggressive outbursts are destructive to relationships. A simple Google search of feeling words will produce many different lists of feelings. My recommendation is to expand your emotional vocabulary and actively study these words, look up their definitions and even their synonyms so you can use them more easily to clearly express what you feel.

Yoga or aerobic exercise

Engaging in yoga and aerobic exercise is a good stress reliever. There are many different types or disciplines of yoga just like there are different kinds of aerobic exercise. You may enjoy Hatha instead of Bikram yoga, or perhaps you prefer spinning instead of running or using the stair master. You may enjoy taking a Zumba or a Hop Hop class. You can’t know what you fill find most enjoyable until you try them, so try them all to see which ones appeal to you.

Ask for Help

There is no shame in needing extra support during stressful times. You may think that asking for help makes you weak but having the ability to ask for help is a sign of strength. All situations are more easily tolerated when we do not endure them alone.

Humor

Lastly, if you can laugh at yourself, at your quirks and foibles, and not treat them as being embarrassing but rather unique and endearing, then you will like who you are and see yourself as being perfectly imperfect.

By studying these techniques and integrating them into your life, you will be able to more easily manage your anxiety.