Understanding anxiety and top 10 tips to managing
Anxiety can look very different for many people.
Some people will feel a general tetchiness within themselves; others might notice obsessive behaviours that accompany the anxiety, such as double checking locks, doubting themselves, feeling like being on watch all the time. Anxiety may feel like full blown dissociation where the person suffering doesn’t feel engaged with the world, feeling trapped in their own minds. Others may notice increased breathing leading to full on panic attacks. Perhaps a general feeling of unease permeates your days.
However we suffer, anxiety is a fear based reaction to something and can be debilitating.
Managing anxiety needs to consider several aspect
1. How do I manage in the present moment?
2. What is causing my anxiety?
3. How do I address the underlying cause?
4. What do I do when anxiety becomes full on panic?
As a therapist working with anxiety in clients, there is no simple answer, as each individual will have their own path to managing and healing. However, here are some common tips and skills that can help.
Managing in the present moment
1. Acknowledging that you have anxiety is the first step to managing it.
2. Letting others know (people you feel safe with and trust) that you feel anxious can help.
3. Creating a sensory box of calming objects
Include all the senses when choosing items – things to touch (e.g. a soft piece of material perhaps or a crystal) things to smell (e.g. a lavender unfused wheat bag) some calming music, something to taste (a mint perhaps or a sugary biscuit) something to look at (perhaps a treasured photo/teddy/print).
Spend some time making the box when you feel calm.
4. Consider wearing an elastic band on your wrist, in case of panic attacks. (see below)
5. Sleep – a good night’s sleep is integral to good emotional health. Consider your bed time routine – limit screen time and ensure at least a 30 minute break before bed. (Extreme tiredness can be confused with anxiety, as the feelings may be felt the same in the body and your mind might be making sense of the tiredness in this way)
6. Consider a supplement like magnesium, which supports the body’s relaxation processes.
7. Consider keeping a diary of feelings, writing them down can help to make sense of your feelings.
8. Take some gentle exercise. A walk in the park, some gentle stretching or perhaps a swim.
9. Consider your diet; are you getting enough nutrients for your body to function well?
10. Drink water! Pay attention to the feeling of the water filling your mouth and running down your throat.
Underlying cause and addressing these concerns
Anxiety, although a horrible experience for any one, lets us know that something is not right. Taking time to consider what is happening in your life with someone you trust, someone who can be supportive and non-judgemental may help you to understand where the anxiety is coming from.
Therapy can be a great support with anxiety and may it may help you to discuss your concerns without the added worry of the impact on your loved one. Therapy allows you freedom to talk about your experience without fear of repercussions.
Looking at your life and the influences that might be causing the anxiety may feel daunting, but will allow you to make the right decisions for you. Influences might range from current life path (either study or work) your relationships (romantic, or with friends, family or colleagues), what is happening within your community or perhaps in your society or country. It may be your past that needs some attention, or fears about the future.
Exploring these influences, whilst learning tools to manage in the present, can create long term management and healing.
Managing panic attacks
1. Stop what you are doing. Sit down if you can do safely.
2. If you have an elastic band, snap it on your wrist.
3. Take 5 deep breathes and ensure the out breath is slightly longer than the in-breath.
4. Look around you, what do you see? Name the things that you see. Name the objects, the colours, the shapes. If you are with someone you feel safe with, engage them in the conversation and tell them how you feel. Let them know you need them to remain calm and name objects with you.
5. Notice what the temperature is. Can you feel any wind or heat on your skin?
6. Notice any smells around you.
7. Feel your feet on the ground and notice how solid the ground is.
8. Stoke your arms or forehead and notice if you begin to feel calmer.
9. Take out your sensory box (as above and spend some time going through the items, remembering how it feels to be calm).
10. Have faith that this will pass.
A word of caution
Whilst meditation and mindfulness can be fantastic tools for supporting self-awareness and developing spiritual growth, when used to override our bodily feelings they can cause long term problems. We have emotional responses for a reason, and if we work with meditation to ‘accept’ these feelings without understanding them and taking appropriate action, we do our emotions and feelings an injustice. As a result these feelings and emotions may get hidden even further and consequently may show up as physical pain, or mean we over react to other situations.
Working with young people
This article is aimed at adults, and is written in a way that would not be expected to be understood by children and young people. Should you wish to refer a young person for therapy with me, please note, whilst the general aims of the therapy may be the same as above, the therapy will be adapted to suit the level of psychological understanding of the young person and therapy may include creative expression including play therapy, arts and storytelling.