Coping with Anxiety by Bernadette Reith

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Identify the Cause

If you are anxious, the first step to feeling better is to try to identify the cause. Break down exactly what it is you are worried about.

Take Control

However difficult it may seem, there is usually a solution to a problem, even if it is neither obvious nor easy to attain. The more you try to ignore the problem or pretend it doesn’t exist, the more out of control you can feel. The act of taking control, admitting there is a problem, is in itself, empowering and can induce a huge sense of relief.

Talk to Someone

When you are stressed or anxious it is easy to become quite isolated. You can feel embarrassed, you think you are the only one that will be feeling this way, you don’t want to worry other people or drag their mood down. The more you separate yourself from other people, the more isolated and lonely you become.
Reaching out to someone else can be scary but trying to cope on your own can often be much harder. Even if you don’t want to or don’t feel able to share the details of your difficulty, telling someone you have a problem can help you deal with it better.

Create a Toolbox of Strategies

Taking control and acknowledging there is a problem allows you to plan ways to reduce the chances of your anxiety getting out of control and also to have tools to hand to cope with it when it does.
One of the keys to controlling your anxiety rather than it having control over you is to practice good mental health awareness routines at the times when you are less anxious so they become almost automatic when you are experiencing difficulties. Such strategies could include:
  • Keep a journal
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques
  • Be active
  • Create a safe space
  • ‘Go to’ song or poem
  • Take a break from social media

Journal

Often when you are anxious, you can become overwhelmed by your thoughts. Your head seems to fill up with thoughts and concerns making it very difficult to concentrate on the everyday tasks you need to carry out and sleep can become almost impossible. Keeping a journal, recording those thoughts when you can’t quiet them, can serve to empty some space in your head and allow some room for calm.
Acknowledge the worries and the negative thoughts, allowing them their space, then literally draw a line under them and call time with an exclamation mark. The physical act of underlining the entry in the journal and completing with an exclamation mark serves to send a message to your brain telling it to let those thoughts go. Trying to find a positive to record in the journal can also help to maintain a healthy balance to your thinking.

Meditation

People can often be intimidated by the term ‘meditation’, imagining hours of sitting cross-legged and endless mantras; that doesn’t need to be the case! It is, in it’s essence, a means to acknowledge the thoughts in your head and tidy some space to enable stillness and quiet. The health benefits of meditation are well-researched and there are many very good apps now that provide short introductions to the practise, e.g. Headspace or Relax with Andrew Johnson.

Relaxation and Breathing Techniques

Mindfulness practices are a key influence in mental health care, encouraging an awareness of the present rather than looking to the future or the past; it is very difficult to be anxious if you are totally focussed on the here and now. As well as meditation, there are many other activities you can do to focus your mind and achieve quiet, e.g. colouring, blowing bubbles, origami, jigsaw puzzles, counting.
Being aware of your breathing and practising controlling it when you are calm can enable you to tap into that learning when you are anxious.

Be Active

Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good and it can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries. Doctors recommend we all exercise for 30 minutes each day but that can seem daunting for some, particularly if you are struggling with your mood. It is important to remember being active can take many forms and even very small activities can add up over the course of a day; the first step is to get yourself up and get moving.

Create a Safe Space

Think about the place where you would feel most calm and comfortable. What does it look like – beach, fields, forest? What sounds can you hear? What can you smell? What colours? People? Animals?
Create a detailed picture in your imagination (you can physically create it as well if you want to) and fill it with the things that reassure you and promote a positive feeling within you.
Regularly practice visiting this place in your imagination, revisiting every detail. Doing this on a regular basis will help your brain associate this place with a sense of calm enabling you to use the visualisation as a resource to help you when your anxiety takes hold.

‘Go to’ song or poem              

As with the ‘safe place’, teaching your brain to associate a particular song or poem with you feeling calm and relaxed will enable you to automatically access this feeling when you become anxious.
There are many strategies and techniques that can help you cope with anxiety but the key to their success is practicing them regularly when you are relatively calm. Find the ones that work for you and build up a personal tool box,. If possible, share what works best for you so that other people can support you. You do not need to cope alone!

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