Monday, December 12, 2022

Understanding And Managing Anxiety: A Survival Guide

1 in 8 people suffer from anxiety
WHO: 1 in 8 people suffer from anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling of dread that comes from knowing there’s something difficult ahead. Sometimes it can be an actual event, like an angry customer, an important exam, or a public speaking event. Anxiety can also pop up just because of a random thought.

While it’s normal to feel a touch of anxiety here and there, it can be bothersome. In addition, anxiety disorders are on the rise.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation found that 301 million people were living with an anxiety disorder, including 58 million children and adolescents. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they estimate this number increased by 26-28%.

If you have anxiety, know you’re not alone! Also, you need not suffer. Anxiety can be upsetting but there are ways to manage it.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a stress reaction. Mild anxiety typically includes quicker breathing, a rapid heartbeat, and tense muscles. Moderate and severe anxiety can also make you feel sweaty, give you an upset stomach, cause rashes and more.

Anxiety can be really useful, like if you’re about to start an exam, it can help you focus. But anxiety can also overwhelm–and it can feel bad!

Why Do We Have Anxiety?

Anxiety is a stress reaction that comes from your brain and body trying to look after you.

How does that work? Human beings are optimized to survive.

Our ancient ancestors lived in caves and huts, battling six-meter-long giant monitor lizards and three-meter-tall cave bears. With giant predators, you don’t want to hang about thinking what to do.

As a result, we developed efficient AUTOMATIC survival systems.

Although we’re not battling giant animals anymore, our brains and bodies have kept the ancient systems.   

How Your Body Works When Anxious

As your stress levels rise, your brain preps for disaster. It works to make you quick and strong.

When you're anxious, your body gives you RoboCop powers
Peter Weller as RoboCop (1987)
What you may notice is that your breathing speeds up. Your lungs suck in oxygen and dump it into your bloodstream. Your heart pumps fast, powering oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. That oxygen powers your muscles.  

What you don’t notice is that your brain switches off all the systems it doesn’t need for now: digestion, growth and reproduction.

What you do notice is that because your body works away, you overheat–so you sweat to cool yourself down.

Plus, another thing you don’t consciously notice is that your brain dumps stress chemicals into your system. They’re designed to make you super sharp and efficient.

Result: you’re geared up better than RoboCop for trouble. The thing is: there’s no cave bear to fight.

How to Manage Anxiety

You can’t poke your brain with a Q-Tip and tell it to stop.

Luckily, you can disrupt the auto-system.

Step #1 How To Breathe To Fight Panic

The key is to take it really slowly. Inhale through your nose over a count of two or three, hold your breath for a further count of two or three, and then exhale slowly–yes, over a count of two or three.

Remember that at this point your body and brain are trying to hit overdrive. So when you mess with that, your brain will recalibrate and then put on the brakes.

Step #2 Give It Five Minutes

Getting your brain to power down will take time.

Take three or four super slow breaths, then give your body time to get itself together. It may take up to five or even fifteen minutes.

Here are some nice ways to distract your mind so your body and brain can get on with the slow-down back to normal:

·         Have a cup of tea.

·         Listen to some cheerful music.

·         Pet the cat or take the dog for a walk.

Also Step #2 Engage in Positive Self-Talk

When your mind goes into overdrive, it can come with negative thoughts. It’s often part of a stress reaction.

If you like, there’s a video that describes how that works here.

If It’s not a huge issue for you, all you need to do is to center yourself.

As long as you’re not a serial killer, you’re probably a perfectly nice person–not perfect, just all kinds of human.

So an affirmation is the way to go. Here’s a good one:

What I’m feeling now is merely my automated system at work. I’m capable and competent. I can handle this.

Take another slow breath.

Step #3 Finish With A Focus On The Present

As you go about petting the cat, Marie Kondo-ing that drawer, or remarking how good your tea is, your stress thoughts will bounce about for a bit.

When you hear them slow down and go, focus on the present.

Counting fives is useful: five colours in the room; five types of square things you see; five things you’d love to do this weekend.

A nice steady flow of positive thoughts will help to ground you, keep you from getting overwhelmed, and push your mind into happier directions.

Final Thought: When To Seek Therapy For Anxiety

The system above should help you manage anxiety. It isn’t an immediate slam-dunk, it will take some practice, but it’s safe, sensible and effective.

To give yourself an extra boost, do some basic background work to leverage and build your resilience:

·         Surround yourself with people who love and support you

·         Sleep 7 to 8 hours a night

·         Eat lots of fresh food and pile on the vegetables

·         Build daily happiness into your life

But, should your anxiety interfere with your daily life or upset you, then talk to a professional.

Seeking help is a sign of strength! It takes courage to ask for help and addressing your anxiety can lead to improved well-being and quality of life.

So don’t suffer, just reach out, okay?

Want to learn more?

Here are good descriptions of what happens in your body when you’re anxious

Brain image by John Hain from Pixabay