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Managing Anxiety

Managing Anxiety

Anxiety can be really difficult to deal with but managing anxiety can be simple, once you know how. This article looks at some of the most important and effective steps you can take and changes you can introduce into your life that will really make a difference quickly.

1. Eat well and keep moving!

One of the quickest and simplest ways of managing anxiety is to get back to basics. Most of the foods we reach for when we’re worried actually make us feel worse. Simple carbohydrates like sugary drinks, processed foods and desserts, caffeine and alcohol all provide a temporary “burst,” will an hour later leave us feeling more tired, stressed and anxious. A diet rich in the following can really help:

  • Complex carbohydrates which act as tranquillisers by increasing mood-elevating serotonin in your brain and keeping blood sugars stable. (In wholewheat bread, oats, beans, barley)
  • Vitamin C may help reduce levels of stress hormones (oranges, red peppers, peaches, broccoli, sprouts, eggs, spinach, kiwis, spinach, leeks and kale).
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help keep you calm by keeping the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline in check. You’ll find omega-3 in oily fish like salmon and tuna, flaxseed, walnuts, and soya beans.

It’s also really important to exercise daily to get the body moving and to help you feel good. This doesn’t necessarily mean joining the gym although many people find great benefits from making this part of their routine. Taking part in team sports (not reserved for the young and fit – even kicking a ball around with a child or grandchild is great!), dancing, Zumba, yoga and gentle stretching or just making a point of walking instead of driving whenever you can – whatever you find enjoyable and fits into your life.

2. Practice 7-11 Breathing

When we’re stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow and fast. Another way of managing anxiety is to practice Try 7/11 breathing to help you to find immediate calm.

Here is how you do it:

  • Breathe in for a count of 7
  • Then breathe out for a count of 11

Couldn’t be simpler, could it?! Make sure that when you are breathing in, you are breathing right down into the tummy area rather than shallower higher lung breathing. If you find that it’s difficult to lengthen your breaths to a count of 11 or 7, then reduce the count to breathing in for 3 and out to 5, or whatever suits you best, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. Continue in this way for 5-10 minutes or longer if you have time – and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body.

3. Try some Positive Visualisation

Positive visualisation is a powerful tool in managing anxiety. There are many excellent (and free) guided visualisation / relaxation audio clips online. You could download a selection onto your mp3 player. They usually involve a calm, soothing voice giving you directions on how to relax both mind and body. Your senses are engaged to heighten your experience of deep relaxation. You may be asked to visualise a peaceful scene in nature or a healing white light or to see yourself accomplishing a goal. You may also be asked to repeat affirmations to help you to feel good about yourself and to reinforce those good feelings. Some people use guided visualisation to find that place within themselves where they can get in touch with their intuition. Through images and sometimes feelings or thoughts that come up for them, they often find answers to questions they had been struggling to resolve within their conscious minds.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a very simple idea, simply a technique for living in the present moment. It is a key part of managing anxiety. We tend to live our lives either going over and over what has already happened or thinking ahead to what might be going to happen. We often have a kind of “tunnel vision” when we are busy, stressed or tired and the same worrisome thoughts go round and round in our heads. We often stop noticing the world around us, lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’. Mindfulness involves reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations we experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of the breeze on our arm or the sound of children laughing.

Some people make a formal practice part of their everyday lives: One such practice is meditation where participants sit or lie down silently and pay attention to the sensations of breathing or other regions of the body, bringing the attention back whenever the mind wanders. Another is yoga where participants move through a series of postures that stretch and flex the body, with emphasis on awareness of the breath.

For more information go to my Mindfulness and Self Help page.

5. Challenge those Negative Thoughts!

When we are feeling anxious, we tend to look at the world in ways that make it seem more dangerous than it really is. For example, you may overestimate the possibility that things will turn out badly, jump immediately to worst-case scenarios, or treat every negative thought as if it were fact. You may also discredit your own ability to handle life’s problems, assuming you’ll fall apart at the first sign of trouble. Sometimes we don’t even notice that we have fallen into this kind of negative way of thinking – it has become a habit.

So…once you have used some of the above techniques to lower your emotional arousal, the next step is to start to challenge some of those negative thoughts. Start by identifying the frightening thought, being as detailed as possible about what scares or worries you. Act like a scientist – instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses you’re testing out. As you examine and challenge your worries and fears, you’ll develop a more balanced perspective.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s the evidence that the thought is true? That it’s not true?
  • Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • What’s the probability that what I’m scared of will actually happen?
  • Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?

6. And finally…Make Life Changes

Once emotional arousal has been lowered and our logical brains are able to function again, people can feel ready to take action to make necessary life changes – which is the really important part of anxiety treatment. This might involve looking for a new job or course of study, making changes in close relationships or perhaps giving up some bad habits which had been used as a coping mechanism. It’s really important not to jump in and make changes too early – when we are emotionally aroused, we literally become “stupid” and it’s easy to make a decision you might later regret. And once you’ve decided on the changes you want to make, take it nice and slow – break goals down into small manageable chunks.

See also my Stress, Anxiety and Panic Attacks page and my Anxiety Counselling Cork page.

Counselling and Managing Anxiety

If you would like some help with managing anxiety, perhaps using some of the tools and  techniques described above, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Other related articles: Social Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Anxiety Symptoms, Anxiety Counselling, Sleep Well, Mindfulness and Compassion, Stress Busting Techniques


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