Worry is a normal part of life, and can even be helpful in some instances. We often worry about things that are present in our lives, such as finances, work, and family, and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas.
With Christmas fast approaching and the bush fires that are burning in many parts of NSW, many people will be feeling more anxious than normal and it's possible that these feelings are more prevalent and confronting than usual. If you are experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable or irrational, this blog will provide some tips to help you stay calm and manage your fears more effectively.
When you’re feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly that fuel your anxiety. You might dwell and focus on things that are beyond your control and get carried away with the what-ifs and maybes.
What if the fires get worse?
What if they hate the presents I bought?
What if Christmas dinner is not up to scratch?
What if I can't attend the party?
What if the smoke ruins our holiday?
How do you reduce your anxiety right now? You might judge and bash yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts are indisputable facts. Thankfully, there are many tools and techniques you can use to manage anxiety effectively. Below, are some healthy strategies and ways ways to cope with the anxiety you are feeling right now.
Accept that you’re Anxious
Remember that anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling and by reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it. Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often makes things worse. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable but accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence, it just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is — and in that moment, reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.”
The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.
When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future, instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now, all around you. Tune into 4 things around you that you can see, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste (you can carry around mints, or gum, to use in this situation). You will distract yourself from the anxiety that is trying to take over your body.
Carry Change or Count Backwards
These techniques help those who are about to have a panic or anxiety attack by forcing the brain to focus on another, overriding activity. The act of counting at random intervals helps people to focus, overriding the anxious thoughts that are trying to creep in. Loose change is a great way to do this. Add a 5 cent coin to a dollar and you have $1 and 5 cents, add another two twenty cent coins and you have $1 and 45 cents, so on and so forth. By showing yourself that you are capable of controlling your thoughts by this systematic, deliberate counting, and focusing on something outside of yourself, you will begin to feel calmer.
Similarly, count backward from 100 by intervals of 3. This is another way to force your brainpower onto a task that is not your anxious thoughts, allowing you to regain control of the situation.
Relax those Muscles
Using relaxation exercises can be an effective way to reduce your stress and anxiety. Alternate between tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. Tensing your muscles is a common symptom of anxiety and by learning to immediately relax those muscles you’ll program your body to relax when it feels the tension.
Talk to Yourself
You can put a stop to the thoughts that lead to anxiety by replacing these thoughts with realistic, more rational ones. When these rational self-statements are practised and learned, your brain takes over and they occur automatically. This is a form of gentle conditioning, meaning that your brain chemistry (neurotransmission) actually changes as a result of your new thinking habits.
First, use thought stoppage. Be gentle but firm about it.
"STOP! These thoughts are not good for me. They are not healthy or helpful thoughts, and I have decided to move in a better direction and learn to think differently." (You are reminding and reinforcing your brain each and every time you make this rational and realistic statement.) Then, pick two or three statements from the list below that seem to help you, and repeat them to yourself OUT LOUD each day.
When Anxiety is Near
I’m going to be all right. My feelings are not always rational. I’m just going to relax, calm down, and everything will be all right.
Anxiety is not dangerous -- it’s just uncomfortable. I am fine; I’ll just continue with what I’m doing or find something more active to do.
Right now I have feelings I don’t like. They will be over with soon and I’ll be fine. For now, I am going to focus on doing something else around me.
I’ve stopped my negative thoughts before and I’m going to do it again now. I am becoming better and better at deflecting these automatic negative thoughts and that makes me happy.
So I feel a little anxiety now, SO WHAT? It’s not like it’s the first time. I am going to take some nice deep breaths and keep on going. This will help me continue to get better.
Statements to use when preparing for a stressful situation
I’ve done this before so I know I can do it again.
When this is over, I’ll be glad that I did it.
The feeling I have about this event doesn’t make much sense. This anxiety is like a mirage in the desert. I’ll just continue to "walk" forward until I pass right through it.
This may seem hard now, but it will become easier and easier over time.
I think I have more control over these thoughts and feelings than I once imagined. I am very gently going to turn away from my old feelings and move in a new, better direction.
Statements to use when I feel overwhelmed
I can be anxious and still focus on the task at hand. As I focus on the task, my anxiety will go down.
Anxiety is a old habit pattern that my body responds to. I am going to calmly and nicely change this old habit. I feel a little bit of peace, despite my anxiety, and this peace is going to grow and grow. As my peace and security grow, then anxiety and panic will have to shrink.
At first, my anxiety was powerful and scary, but as time goes by it doesn’t have the hold on me that I once thought it had. I am moving forward gently and nicely all the time.
I don’t need to fight my feelings. I realise that these feelings won’t be allowed to stay around very much longer. I just accept my new feelings of peace, contentment, security, and confidence.
All these things that are happening to me seem overwhelming. But I’ve caught myself this time and I refuse to focus on these things. Instead, I’m going to talk slowly to myself, focus away from my problem, and continue with what I have to do. In this way, my anxiety will have to shrink away and disappear.
There’s no quick fix for anxiety, and it may often feel like an uphill struggle. But by gaining awareness of what causes your symptoms, and getting help from your doctor, you can manage your symptoms. You may find some of these hacks work for you straight away and others may have no effect at all, but the important thing is to keep trying.
Giving in to feelings of anxiety by retreating from the world only served to make my life more difficult in the long run. Continuing to search for solutions that work for me has been key to my recovery. Practice makes perfect, so don’t stop trying to find ways that work for you.