With recent events in the World, those of us who suffer with anxiety will, I’m sure, be feeling the effects even more so. Read on to find out my 3 top tips for getting the better of anxiety…
What is Anxiety?
- A physical reaction
- A normal bodily function
- The reaction is the same for fear, anger, excitement
For example, think about how you feel on Christmas Eve or just before a big holiday. You will find that the physical feelings are similar.
So, what is going on inside us when we are having an anxiety reaction?
- The Brain receives information that there is some kind of threat
- The brain then orders the release of chemicals into the blood stream
- The chemicals prepare the body to deal with the threat
Let’s learn a little more about why this happens…
In the very early days of man, we had to live much more on our instincts. More like an animal does. We had to be ready to react quickly! We had to hunt and kill our food and protect ourselves from predators.
Think about a dog, he may be sitting asleep and someone knocks the door. Within a second, the dog is at the door, barking. He has reacted to a possible threat.
We call this reaction FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE. Why? Because we either have to fight the threat, run from it or freeze and be quiet and still.
It’s pretty amazing really and one of the reasons that humans have been so successful as a species. We have used this reaction to develop sophisticated strategies to fight many threats. Our brains have grown and developed immensely but what we sometimes forget is that we are still living organisms, we are animals and our bodies are connected to our brains!!
Let’s explain a little bit about the amazing work your body is doing whilst you’re reacting to a threat.
The brain releases a chemical into the blood stream called Cortisol. This is sometimes called the stress hormone. It is also the same hormone we release when we first wake to get our bodies moving after a night’s sleep.
So, the Cortisol has a job to do – it prepares the body for action.
- It pumps blood to the muscles of the arms and legs ready to run or fight
- It increases breathing rate, making us action-ready
- It pumps blood to the head to heighten our hearing, vision, etc.
- It pulls blood and energy from unnecessary areas such as fingers and toes and the digestive system
The body remains in this state for a short time until the threat has been dealt with
The Cortisol is diluted in the blood stream as the body returns to normal function
After effects of an anxiety reaction can include tiredness and crying – these are also natural reactions.
What an amazing system!
Let’s look at some of the physical sensations we feel and I’m pretty sure you will identify with at least a couple of them.
- Blood being pumped to muscles may cause you to feel tense, clench fists, waggle your legs
- Increased breathing rate might make you feel like you can’t breathe properly, which in turn can make you feel more panicky. Some people think they are having a heart attack
*** just to point out you cannot die from a panic or anxiety attack. As your breathing rate increases if you do not manage to resume normal breathing, your body will do it for you! You will faint and your breathing will return to normal
- As blood is pumped around the body, you may feel a pounding in your head, headache or blurry vision
- As blood is not being pumped to non-essential parts of the body, you may experience pins and needles in hands and feet and butterflies in your tummy
Now, take a few moments to think about where and how you feel your anxiety.
3 Top Tips for How I can manage my Anxiety?
Top Tip 1
Learn to breathe – there are many different ways that you can do this, but I like a technique called square breathing. Remember that any breathing technique will be difficult to keep up whilst you are experiencing an anxiety reaction but this one is easy to remember and therefore easy to recall.
You are going to breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4 and hold for 4. This technique is called square breathing.
Top Tip 2
Tell your friends and family – people essentially want to help or feel like they’re helping. So, you’re almost doing them a favour by inviting them to help you.
Another thing to consider is that if you become anxious around friends and family, they do not always understand that this is the problem. They may panic themselves or they may become impatient with you. Neither of these reactions are helpful. Follow these steps
- Now you know what anxiety is, explain it to them
- Establish a word or phrase that you can use confidentially to let them know you’re feeling anxious
- Once they hear the word, get them to ask you to rate your anxiety / discomfort level 1-10
- They must remain calm, take you somewhere away from crowds and as private as possible
- Together, practice the square breathing technique (that you will have taught them!)
- After a couple of minutes, ask them to rate the levels again. Hopefully they are lower, if not, repeat!
BONUS! They will also feel more relaxed and energised! It’s a win win!
Top Tip 3
Practice! – Remember that managing your anxiety symptoms is an ongoing commitment and like any activity, the more we do it, the better we get at it.
Practice breathing as often as you can. It can never do you any harm and by concentrating on the breath, you are actually practising mindfulness. Other relaxing activities such as walking in nature, a bubble bath, yoga etc. will all help your long-term health and well-being.
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Sarah Terry is a School Counsellor and Author who works in Central England. Her interests include Counselling and Psychology, Personality Types, Jogging and Yoga and Meditation. Find out more here
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