We explored what anxiety was in our recent blog post. Now we are going to look at some useful strategies to help cope with anxiety. Anxiety is a powerful combination of emotional, behavioural, thinking, and physical symptoms. Learning ways to help cope with each of these different components is helpful. We can learn strategies to help us in the moment when anxiety arises or ways to prevent the onset of anxiety. Both are useful tools in the fightback against anxiety.
Ways of coping in the moment. It can be useful to practice these when not experiencing anxiety. Think of them as a muscle that gets stronger the more we use it. That way they are strong enough for us to call on when needed.
- Grounding Techniques – Can help us to come back to the present moment and not get caught up in our anxious feelings. A popular grounding technique is 5,4,3,2,1. Here we name 5 things we can see in our environment, 4 things we can touch, 3 things we can hear, 2 things we can smell and 1 thing we can touch. Playing this game with someone else, or in our own heads can help focus on the present until the anxiety lessens.
- Breathing Techniques – Can help us to regulate our internal systems and calm the symptoms of anxiety. My favourite is boxed breathing. Here we repeatedly count a slow, steady rhythm of 1,2,3,4. For the first four, breathe in. For the second four, hold your breath. For the third four, breathe out. For the last four, hold your breath. Think of these as sides to a box and repeat the process as needed. U.S Navy Seals use this technique to help them cope with the stresses they face.
- Write your thoughts down – Use this technique to externalise our thoughts. Use ideas such as journaling and freewriting to help combat anxious feelings. Writing our thoughts down can help them seem less overwhelming and we can start to question them. We can also choose to do something with the thoughts, like throw them in the bin or pin them on the wall. Helping us to gain control and autonomy over them.
- Go for a walk – It may sound obvious but this technique can be particularly effective if the anxiety is triggered by a place or situation. Getting out into nature or green spaces can also help us tune into what may be happening in our bodies when we are anxious.
- Accept the anxiety – This may be difficult but becomes easier with practice. Certain levels of anxiety are healthy. Learning to accept the anxiety and its effects can be a powerful step in lessening its intensity. One way of doing so may be to reframe the feelings from anxiety to excitement.
Ways of helping prevent the onset of anxiety. Think of these as daily practices that help to reduce the frequency of anxiety episodes.
- Counselling and psychotherapy. Working with a professional can help you to understand where your anxiety comes from. It may be a result of core beliefs that are outside of your current awareness. It can also help you to learn and manage the triggers for your anxiety. This results in you feeling calmer and in more control of your anxiety.
- Diet and lifestyle – Having a healthy routine can help with many aspects of our mental health including anxiety. Making sure we get enough sleep is an essential step to preventing anxious feelings. Sleep is affected by all aspects of our lives. What we eat/drink and when we eat/drink it, our levels of stress and amount of physical activity.
- Avoiding alcohol/caffeine/nicotine – All of which are stimulants. Anxiety can be a common side effect of stimulants and anxiety symptoms can be made worse by it. Consider changing your routine around caffeine which stays in the bloodstream for many hours after consumption. If you find things like alcohol and nicotine are giving you short term relief from anxiety then you may be engaging in safety behaviours. These are ways of temporarily avoiding a problem that can actually make it worse in the long-term.
- Mindfulness – Is a practice that enhances our ability to notice what is happening in the moment. This includes our emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is an idea borrowed from Eastern philosophy. A daily mindfulness practice may involve listening to a guided script or focussing on our breathing. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to be more grounded and help us realise when we are becoming anxious.
- Exercise – Apart from the obvious physical benefits, exercise can help reduce the symptoms and frequency of anxiety. Regular physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress, which can often exacerbate anxiety. Research has shown that a 10 minute walk can have a similar impact in reducing anxiety as a 45 minute workout. Also, people who regularly exercise are 25% less likely to have anxiety.
Finally, some anxiety is healthy and part of our inbuilt fear response. Anxiety is a problem when it becomes disproportionate to its stimulus. Our ancient ancestors needed anxiety responses more as they lived nomadically and were hunted by predators. In modern civilization, we no longer need such a powerful fear response. It can feel very much like a matter of life and death when we are faced with anxious feelings. Use some of these tips to help you get through and overcome those moments.
If you suffer from anxiety and would like some support please contact us here https://ukcounsellingnetwork.co.uk/book