Anxiety is a part of life unfortunately, yet we all furiously engage in behaviours to try avoid anxiety as much as possible. When you accept anxiety as a part of life it actually becomes easier to manage.
If you are not willing to experience anxiety, you will definitely have anxiety!
When you accept anxiety as something that will always be there, you can then learn ways to deal with it more effectively. Anxiety can be managed but it can’t be removed completely.
Anxiety is caused by two things:
- The fact that we overestimate the threat. This could be fear of rejection, humiliation or failure. It could also be fear of losing someone or experiencing shame. There are numerous triggers around us and the more we try to avoid them, the more anxious we become.
- The fact that we underestimate our ability to cope. We often cope far better than we anticipate bit the more we avoid situations that might cause anxiety, the fewer opportunities we have to test out our beliefs.
Tips for managing anxiety
Know the difference between a real problem (the car has broken down) and a hypothetical problem. This is a “what if” problem that might never happen. Learn to spend less time agonising over “what if” type problems. Find a solution if possible but then ‘mentally shelve’ the worry.
Don’t spend time overthinking. If you can do something that is solution focused to help towards solving the problem/worry, do it. If you can’t, learn to distract yourself. Count backwards from 100 or do something else but don’t waste mental energy by allowing a problem to go round and round in your mind.
Learn to let thoughts pass without focusing on them. We have between 40 000 – 60 000 thoughts per day. Visualise thoughts as leaves flowing on a river, let the ones that aren’t useful pass by. It is possible to learn to focus your attention on the thoughts that are helpful rather than unhelpful. Examples of unhelpful thoughts: I will never be able to cope. I am useless. It will never work etc
If you really cannot focus elsewhere, try implementing ‘worry time’ Give yourself 30 minutes per day to worry and for the rest of the day, do your best to distract yourself and keep busy.
Ask yourself: what would I tell a friend in this situation? Am I exaggerating the threat? Is there another way to look at this that makes me feel less anxious? (there is always another way to look at something).
Learn mindfulness – be in the moment more rather than living in your head. TO bring yourself back to the present moment, try this:
Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch, 1 thing you can taste. The more you engage your 5 senses, the less time your brain has to wander off to your worries.
Anxiety is the body’s way of telling us we are in danger but often the body sends us false alarms. We may feel physical sensations related to anxiety – sweaty palms, heart palpitations etc but tell yourself quietly that you are safe and that you are not in danger.
Try deep breathing to calm yourself and tell yourself “this will pass”.
Make anxiety your friend as much as possible. See it as an early warning system that can prepare you and make you ready for action.