I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life (I only learned that it was anxiety later on) and I understand what it feels like, how exhausting it is and how hard it is to explain to others.
I studied it, learnt about it, practiced a whole host of techniques to manage it and finally understood that anxiety is my very best friend. Even though it feels like your worst enemy most of the time!
I will do my best to explain and hopefully help you to understand your anxiety better. I’ll also share some techniques that work to help you manage your anxiety and be able to live your life more freely.
In order to tackle any problem we need to understand where it’s come from. There are many reasons - an accident, traumatic event, childhood trauma, burnout, bereavement, illness. Then there are the other less obvious reasons - bullying, teasing, build-up of stress, paranoia, general feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence, inherited and learned behaviours from our parents, dehydration (yes, really!), poor nutrition.
In any incident, anxiety is an emotional response that we have developed in order to protect ourselves. Essentially, it is the ‘caveman’ part of our brain kicking in – the ‘fight or flight’ response to danger. This is where the idea that seeing your anxiety as your best friend comes in.
Think of your brain as an iceberg for a moment. Where the top third is your conscious mind and the bottom two thirds, below the water line, are your subconscious mind.
Think of your subconscious as your very best friend – it’s only mission is to prove you right & please you, the conscious mind. You could think of your subconscious as an immense filing system. Everything that you experience in life is filed away, neatly processed and categorised in some way for easy access in the future. When your conscious mind has a thought, be it positive or negative, your subconscious starts whizzing through the filing system to provide you with memories, feelings, emotions to support what your conscious mind is saying. Because, as your very best friend, your subconscious wants to please you and prove you right. After time, we develop a short cut and run a programme that we’ve developed as a response to certain situations i.e. whatever you are having an anxious response to. It doesn’t have to be just one thing.
As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you’re right.” And this leads me to the most frequent phrase I use in helping my clients, what you think leads to how you feel which leads to how you behave. Thinking and even saying positive statements, leads to feeling more positive which leads to more positive behaviours. It takes time and feels unfamiliar to begin with, but trust in your very best friend – it’s there to help you.
So, what can you do to manage and overcome your anxiety? I’ve used all of the following techniques myself and many of my clients have also had success with them.
Low Level – constant anxiety
Be kind to yourself
Write down 3 things every day that you feel good about. It can start small – food in the fridge, got up before midday, drank 2 litres of water.
Progress to 3 things you’ve done every day that empower you e.g. said ‘no’ to someone (and felt ok about it!) ran 5KM, cooked dinner for my friends.
Breathing – breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 5, breathe out for 5. Repeat a few times. Keep your focus on the breath.
Keep a journal – record when your anxiety starts or increases. There are triggers and it’s helpful to understand what they are. Notice what you notice.
Medium Level – before an activity/event
Be kind to yourself
Deep, slow and controlled breaths.
Say positive statements out loud. Yes, you might feel a bit silly for a few seconds, but what’s worse, feeling silly or letting the anxiety take over?
Smile. A big, fat grin. Especially when you don’t feel like it!
Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Really! If it’s fear, what are you fearful of exactly? What evidence do you have that it will happen?
High Level – panic attack
Be kind to yourself. What would you say to someone you care about in the same situation?
Walk/exercise. Never pace or walk round in circles, it will become worse. Remember the fight or flight response and all that adrenalin being released? The best way to disperse adrenalin is to move.
Slowly say out loud “I’m ok,” “I’m safe,” “I’m strong,” “I feel good.” Remember your very best friend right now, it’s going into overdrive to prove you right.
Phone someone – a friend, AnxietyUK, The Samaritans, just phone someone and tell them what’s happening, you don’t have to be alone and there is lots of support out there.
Above all, be kind to yourself and treat yourself as you would a loved one.
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