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Five strategies for managing anxiety

We all experience anxiety. It’s natural and essential to our functioning as human beings. However, some of us are more prone to it than others and some of us are dealing with very high levels of anxiety, perhaps as a consequence of an anxiety disorder (these include Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, OCD, PTSD, Social Anxiety and Phobias).

Anxiety can often be self-perpetuating. Something triggers it off in our minds and then we get the accompanying uncomfortable physical sensations. We label it as unpleasant and unwanted. Our instinct is to push it away or distract ourselves. Some of us might get caught up in the thoughts underlying the anxiety, getting stuck in a vicious circle of worry. Others might not know why they feel anxious. It might feel like a sort of ‘wandering’ or ‘homeless’ anxiety with no obvious cause.

Here are five strategies that you may find helpful:

1. Take a logical look

If you are able to identify particular worries underlying your anxiety it might be helpful to stop for a moment and examine things logically. You could list the situations/scenarios that are causing you anxiety and ask yourself:

A. Does the situation/scenario currently exist? – YES (go to B), NO – see techniques below to help manage anxiety.

B. Can the situation be changed? – YES (go to C), NO – see techniques below to help manage anxiety.

C. Do something to change the situation and see techniques below to help manage any anxiety.

2. Make space for anxiety

The irony is that when we can better accept difficult internal experiences and allow ourselves to have them, they lose their power over us. I recommend the mindfulness App “Headspace”. In the Anxiety course the listener is encouraged to practice “noting”: You start off focusing your attention on your breathing then as your mind naturally wanders to a thought or feeling you ‘note’ in your head, objectively, like a scientist recording data, the word “thinking” or “feeling”, and then return your attention to the breath. It’s really simple but you have made space for any thought or feeling that wants to come along helping you to feel more in control of the anxiety, rather than it controlling you. This response to anxiety doesn’t have to be contained within a meditation exercise; it can become more of a way of life.

3. Reconnect with the present

The previous two strategies can help you to feel more grounded and present internally but you can also look outside yourself to help with this. Usually, when anxiety absorbs us, we are on autopilot and our thoughts flit in and out of the past and the future; we ruminate, imagine and anticipate. Getting in touch with any or all of your senses can bring you back to the here and now e.g. noticing the sound of your footsteps, the feel of the fabric of your pocket, the sight of birds and clouds in the sky, the smells in the air and the taste of the food you eat.

4. Try/increase aerobic exercise

The brain chemical serotonin is a key player in anxiety and our general sense of well-being. You may have heard of it in the context of the anti-depressant SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) drugs often prescribed for anxiety. Aerobic exercise, including walking, running, biking, swimming (among others) is an effective way to naturally increase serotonin synthesis in the brain, helping you to better manage anxiety.

5. Seek therapy

When anxiety rises above your usual baseline levels it is usually a sign that something is out of balance in your life. Anxiety is not an isolated symptom of a disorder or illness that can be ‘cured’ by medication (although this can be helpful in conjunction with other approaches). Counselling or psychotherapy can help you to explore the underlying causes of your anxiety, giving you the opportunity to make more sustainable changes in your life. Many of us offer free initial sessions for you to get a feel for the therapy process and the practitioner. A good starting point is to consider therapists who are qualified and registered with a professional body.

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