ONE: Physical health – sleep, nutrition and movement
Check for any physical health concerns that could be affecting your levels of anxiety. The other things that affect our levels of stress and anxiety are the quality of sleep, nutrition and exercise we get. Increase your sleep quantity (if you are not getting enough – at least 8 hours a night) and your sleep quality; ensure you are having regular healthy food; and try and fit in regular exercise at least 4 times a week for half an hour to get your heart rate up. This could be getting out for a brisk walk or at home doing star jumps, running on the spot, using the skipping rope or exercise bike. And get some sunshine and fresh air regularly.
TWO: Breathing to calm yourself
We breathe in oxygen for our body to use and breathe out carbon dioxide. Our body needs the right balance of each so that it can run efficiently. When we begin to feel anxious we often start shallow breathing into our chest instead of our belly, causing the flight/fight response to quicken. Often when we are anxious we can overbreathe (or hyperventilate), which means that we take in too much oxygen, upsetting the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our body. Our body then tries to bring these back into balance, and reacts with chemical changes – these symptoms then produce dizzyness, confusion, lightheadness, increase in heart rate, blurred vision, numbness and tingling in our hands and feet, cold or clammy hands, and muscle stiffness.
Taking slow even breaths can re-balance these gases, which alleviates anxiety and calms the body. What we want to do is promote relaxation, and by practicing diaphragmatic breathing, we can induce the relaxation response instead. Check out our other post on how to control your breathing and calm your body’s responses to reduce your anxiety.
THREE: Learn How to Tolerate Your Emotions and Distress
Learning how to tolerate our distress and uncomfortable thoughts and emotions will go a long way to stop us from reacting to them with anxiety and fear. There are many ways you can do this but I’ve found one of the best ways is using distress tolerance worksheets that can be found on the internet, or seeing a counsellor to support you to do this well. You will be amazed at the difference it makes, just knowing you can cope with them and they won’t last.
FOUR: Stop Avoiding and Start Approaching
Anxiety is characterised by avoiding those situations that we think make us anxious. Learning exposure strategies that help us take things one step at a time builds confidence that we can do things that normally make us anxious.
When we practice acceptance rather than resistance we tend to relax more – this helps to alleviate our anxiety. By understanding and accepting what is going on with our body, we can stay more relaxed, realising we are having a normal response which we don’t need to fear. Acceptance and Committment Therapy helps people do just that. Practicing acceptance, mindfulness (not focused on the future or the past but being present in this moment), and committed action.
SIX: Realise your brain is tricking you
Panic attacks might feel like a heart attack or that you are going crazy but they won’t hurt you. Obviously you need to have a medical check to make sure what you are experiencing is not heart related. With Panic Attack, the body responds in much the same way, rapid heart beat, tightening of the chest etc. It is useful to remind yourself that you are not dying or going crazy, that it will pass and that your brain is only playing tricks on you.
SEVEN: Question your thinking
Your thoughts aren’t facts but we tend to believe everything they tell us about ourselves and the world. If we change our relationship with them we can gain more control over how they affect us and choose to only listen to those that are helpful, realistic and encouraging. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy teaches you how to do this.
Focus on what you are doing now and bring yourself back to the present – keeps your head out of the past and future, which are often a source of stress and anxiety for us.
NINE: Stay connected with family, friends, community
If you are isolated join a group – your local community centre is a good place to start – you can enrol in a hobby such as gardening, book reading groups or something else you really enjoy.
TEN: And last but not least – Laugh often and well
A good video or movie, or hanging out with so me funny people are all good for the soul.