Health + Fitness, Lifestyle

10 effective ways to manage anxiety

 
10 effective ways to manage anxiety

Did we jinx the year? Just when we thought 2021 would be a better year, we find ourselves in total lockdown again after having been under restricted movement orders for the past six months. As such, it has further added stress to all our lives, and for those with anxiety disorders, the ongoing struggle is particularly more frustrating.

One in six people report experiencing mental health problems in any given week. The pandemic is topping them with another layer of stress, which has not only exacerbated anxiety disorders in some people but also triggered relapses in others. Therapy is the long-term solution to overcoming anxiety but what about the day-to-day management? Here are 10 things you can do:

 

Relax your body

Tensing up is a natural reaction to anxiety and stress, which puts you on alert mode. The more tense we are, the more the anxiety is reinforced. It might be easier said than done, but try to relax. Let your shoulders drop. Lean back into a sofa or lie down on the bed. Unclench your muscles one at a time, starting with your jaw and tongue, to your shoulders, and then moving down the rest of your body. This signals to the brain that you are not in danger, and subsequently decreases anxiety.

 

Eat regular meals

During a particularly bad episode of anxiety, we often forget to eat because the feeling is so overwhelming that it represses our hunger cues. Being hungry is just another red flag for your body that something bad is about to happen, and heightens feelings of discomfort and anxiety. You may feel like you’re not hungry but you need to ensure you are eating enough, and regularly. A nourished body is a manageable one. It’s also advisable to avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can aggravate anxiety.

 

Change your environment

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Shaking things up can bring you out of the environment that you associate with anxiety, and help change the way you feel. Try going to an imaginary safe place in your head (with or without the aid of a meditative app or video), going to a place in your house where you feel most safe (e.g. under the blanket on the sofa), taking yourself for a brief calm walk or, going to a friend’s house or inviting a friend to yours to keep you company – while adhering to SOPs, of course!

 

Exercise

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When we feel anxious, our body is primed for fight or flight, and releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This can cause elevated blood pressure, a racing heart, and sweating. Exercise can help us burn off the negative energy that, in our more primitive days, would have been used either fleeing, or fighting, a threat. You could take a brisk walk, put on your running shoes and hit the tarmac, or jump around to an aerobics video or your favourite music in your living room.

 

Distraction

Put your mind to something that requires concentration. The more focus that goes into doing something else, the less brain power goes towards making you feel anxious. Your brain will want to look back but keep focusing to your chosen activity. Research find that activities that require your body to be engaged as well as your mind – such as puzzles, a walk with a friend, gardening, painting, or playing an interactive game on a games console or phone – are most effective. Hands-on examples can work especially well because moving can help with anxious energy, and having your hands busy, as well as your mind, can work as further distraction.

 

Changing the emotion

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Doing things that evoke different emotions to the ones we are experiencing can help change negative feelings. We often listen to angry music when we feel that emotion but this can sometimes reinforce the anger further rather than release it. So, instead of spending time reinforcing anxiety – for example, someone with health anxiety may spend time researching the symptoms – spend time doing things that evoke positive emotions in you, such as watching a comedy show, chatting to a friend about something good that happened to you recently, or reading a book that gets you entirely lost in that world.

 

Buy a CBT workbook

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“Cognitive behavioural therapy is recognised for its structured and practical approach when dealing with issues that might be overwhelming,” says therapist and trauma specialist Magdalena Stanek. “This type of counselling model breaks the problem into five main areas: situations, physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and actions, which all connect to each other. For example, with anxiety you can focus on talking about situations that cause you to feel anxious, how that affects the way you think about yourself and the world, then also linking it to the way you behave. This type of analysis can help people to realise the root cause of the current issue, as it targets the ‘here and now’ and sets specific goals to eventually overcome difficulties.” The pandemic has meant that face-to-face therapy has been disrupted, resulting to a lot of counsellors offer phone or virtual sessions as an alternative. If you’re waiting for an in-person appointment – or if you aren’t ready to try therapy right now – invest a CBT workbook and go through it yourself. You can then refer back to what you’ve learned when anxiety is threatening to overcome you.

 

Feel the fear and do it anyway

In order to stop the brain from perceiving things as a threat, you have to show it that they aren’t by exposing yourself to those things, over and over, until it gets less scary every time. Avoiding situations that make us anxious only reinforces that feeling, often leading to ever-increasing anxiety. We can’t overcome our fears without facing them. Ensure that you know the difference between discomfort and distress: push yourself, but not too much.

 

Ice diving

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Simply fill a bowl with ice, and put your face in it. This lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature – which helps with distressing emotions, and reduces anxiety. “When you are in freezing water, your body needs to save energy to survive,” says Magdalena. “So it will slow down or shut functions that aren’t crucial. Emotions are not essential, so they will gently dissipate.” If you have a heart or other medical condition, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider before trying this technique.

 

Look at the evidence

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One of our friends told that when she was alone and feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, she called her mum. Her mum asked if she had felt this way before, to which she replied that she had. She asked her what happened. The answer was: nothing. And the anxiety eventually went away. We always think about the worst-case scenario when we’re emotionally overwhelmed. Be pragmatic. If you’re worried of dying in a plane crash, think about how many people actually die this way (spoiler: not a lot). If you have a headache and worry that it might be cancer, think about how likely that is. If you’re convinced you are about to die, ask yourself if you’ve felt this way before and why you’re still alive.

 

Anxiety is hard to beat, but we must try to understand that we cannot control everything, or plan for every eventuality. Remember that you don’t have to suffer alone, and it’s important to reach out when you need help. Click here for list of emotional support hotline.