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Dealing With Anxiety




Anxiety. You know the feeling: when your heart is racing, and your breathing is quick and sh

allow. Your palms get sweaty, and your thoughts become a jumbled mess of confusion that seems to be speeding through your mind with no chance of stopping it. You feel uncertain; you feel scared; you feel trapped.


This 4-syllable word can cause you to lose all sense of reality. It could make you behave in ways that you not normally would. It could also leave you near paralysed with inaction.


Different types of anxiety.

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. People often feel anxious before a job interview, moving to a new place, or trying something that puts them out of their comfort zones. In other cases, anxiety can be excessive and prolonged. In these cases, you might need help from a mental health practitioner. They would be able to help you if you have:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is when you experience excessive anxiety over a longer period (at least six months).

  • Panic disorder is when you persistently experience panic attacks. These panic attacks could happen unexpectedly or in a reaction to something that triggers them.

  • Phobia-related disorders are when you experience disproportionate amounts of fear or anxiety caused by a specific thing or situation, even if the object or situation in itself is not dangerous.


Here are some things that you can try to ease your anxiety during uncomfortable moments:


Pay attention to your thoughts.

Often negative thought patterns or cycles contribute to your anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy holds that your emotions, thoughts, and behaviour all affect each other. When you are experiencing anxiety, turn your attention to your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself? How are you speaking to yourself?


Once you know what you are thinking, you can start to question and challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself whether what you are thinking is true and rational or whether you are catastrophising or assuming things that are not true. Question whether your thoughts are gentle or loving or whether you are being a bully to yourself in that moment. By doing this, you start to take back control over harmful thought patterns.


Breathe.

Some researchers believe [JP1] that breathing exercises like pranayama could have a full-body effect on stress and anxiety compared to antidepressant medication that only targets the neurotransmitters in your brain. Slow, rhythmic breathing helps your body to calm down from a state of fight-or-flight.


There are different pranic exercises that you can use to calm down your anxiety. Try to aim for a breathing pattern where you inhale and exhale for the same amount of time. Hold your breath in between each inhale and exhale.


For example: inhale for six seconds, hold your breath for six seconds, exhale for six seconds, hold your breath (out) for six seconds. That would be one cycle. Continue with this for at least 12 cycles – longer if you need to. The aim is to slow down your breathing, which in turn will slow down your heart rate and other bodily functions.


Paying attention to your breathing and counting as you go also helps you to focus on the present moment and frees your mind from repetitive thought cycles.


Identify your triggers.

Anxiety is pretty easy to recognise. You might have a higher than normal heart rate, and your breathing is out of sync. Your body is tense, and you might find it difficult to concentrate. The things that trigger your anxiety are sometimes more difficult to identify.


Take some time out when you are feeling anxious to explore how you are feeling and what lead up to you experiencing this. This is difficult, I know, especially while you feel like you are stuck in the middle of a stormy ocean with waves battering you from all sides with only a fork to row your boat.


The reason why you would want to do this during your anxiety storm is because this is the time that the trigger matters. If you do this after you have calmed down, it is possible that the trigger has lost its significance. You might look back and think, ‘well, I just overreacted there’. The point of this exercise is to find out what causes you to become anxious. These are often things that can be written off as small or insignificant when you are standing outside of your anxiety storm.


It is a good idea to write your triggers down. This way, you will start to pay attention to these things or situations and respond in a healthier way.


Fuel your body well.

Having low blood sugar could leave you feeling anxious and irritable – can anyone say ‘hangry’? Fuel your body well by eating breakfast and having small meals during the day to keep your blood sugar fairly consistent. Fruit and vegetables will help with that while giving you essential nutrients and boosting your serotonin – that feel-good hormone.


You could also include foods that help reduce anxiety[JP2] like salmon, chamomile, turmeric, dark chocolate, yogurt, and green tea.


Stimulants like caffeine, found in sodas, teas, and coffee, could cause your body to react in the same way it does when you experience anxiety. It could cause your heart to race, your hands to shake, and lead to you feeling restless and agitated. The same goes for nicotine. It might seem that smoking can help you deal with anxiety, and in some cases, it could act as an antidepressant, but long-term use can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression, especially when you stop or cut down.[JP3]


Take time out.

It sounds like a cliché – it isn’t. The thing with anxiety is that it keeps drawing you in. It keeps holding on to you, much like an ocean current. Struggle against it, and you become exhausted as it persists. Let go and flow along with it, and it will carry you off to goodness knows where. You need to get out of the water. Sunlight and nature are potent healers. Take some time to sit outside and just be. Look at the world around you and allow yourself to become absorbed in the present moment.


It slows down your mind and helps you to step out of that endless cycle of thoughts that keep you trapped in your anxiety.


Speak to someone.

Discussing your anxiety and the triggers around your anxiety with someone you trust could help you make sense of what is going on. Experiencing anxiety can be confusing, especially if you are aware that the situation does not warrant your reaction. This could lead to feeling confused and guilty, hopeless, or helpless as you struggle to gain some traction again.


Speaking through your experiences, thoughts, emotions, and concerns allows you to hear them as you speak it out loud. It can be a powerful way of working through what is going on and process through your thoughts instead of having them mill around in your head.


Speak to someone that you trust like a family member or close friend. You can also speak to a therapist, spiritual leader, or mental health professional.


Practice meditation and mindfulness.

We often experience anxiety either around things that happened in the past or something that might happen in the future. You can cultivate a sense of calm by bringing your focus wholly and fully into the present moment.


There are different ways to do this. Practicing meditation helps you to not only cultivate a quiet mind while you are meditating but also to slip back into that calmness easier at other times during your day. The more you practice meditating, the easier you can achieve that state of calm when you need to.


Mindfulness is a fancy way of saying ‘paying attention’. It is about giving your full attention to whatever you are doing at any specific moment. You are so immersed in what you are doing and experiencing that you do not have run-away thoughts and no (or less) anxiety.


A quick way to practice mindfulness when you are in an anxiety storm is to focus on your senses: pay attention to what you can see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Better yet – try to identify five things that you can experience with each of your senses.

Find:

  • Five things you can see.

  • Five things you can hear.

  • Five things you can smell.

  • Five things you can taste.

  • Five things you can feel.


Getting professional help.

Professional treatment of anxiety could include:


  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

  • Anti-anxiety medications to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or excessive fear or worry.

  • Antidepressant medications that could help with the way your brain absorbs and uses specific chemicals that affect your mood and how you deal with stress.

  • Beta-Blockers can help to reduce the physical symptoms caused by anxiety.

  • Booking a session with Lara Klopper lara@peacefulmind.co.za


Addressing anxiety as it arises is a massive part of self-care. Finding out what causes your anxiety and the best methods for you to deal with it, including getting professional help, is key to having a happy and healthy life.


References:

[JP1]https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8

[JP2]https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-foods-that-reduce-anxiety

[JP3]https://journals.lww.com/neuroreport/Abstract/2002/07020/Effect_of_nicotine_and_nicotinic_receptors_on.6.aspx

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