How to Manage Anxiety
Are you a person who would be considered a worrier? Do you constantly find yourself catastrophysing situations? Do you take a situation and think about all of the conceivable things that could go wrong? Do you play them over and over again in your own mind? Do your fearful thoughts “wear you out and wear you down”?
All healthy people have anxious thoughts. Mild anxiety keeps you aware. As you can imagine, anxiety can protect you from taking dangerous risks. It is a signal to evaluate your situation and move cautiously. As with any emotion, if it is pervasive, it can immobilize you and keep you from accomplishing goals or taking risks. It can often take a toll on your body. Anxiety that manifests itself physically causes heart palpitations, racing thoughts, shallow breathing, pressure on your chest, mild- to profuse sweating, and in extreme cases, feels very similar to those of a heart attack.
People who experience mild anxiety function well in life. They make good employees because they check their work regularly and follow through with directives. People with moderate- to severe anxiety may need medication and therapy to acquire skills to decrease anxiety.
Anxiety can be regulated, but it takes some perseverance and practice to override your worries. If you find yourself worrying about a situation, there are several techniques that can help you decrease your anxiety:
- Deep breathing. Many people can moderate their anxiety with the regular use of deep breathing. Taking a series of three deep breaths allows the body to get more oxygen and slows down the central nervous system.
- Positive self-talk. It is important to identify the fear and name it clearly. Then you must talk yourself through it. In doing this, you have reminded your body that the mind is in control and can therefore master the anxiety. Positive self-talk instills a positive attitude, which greatly affects how the body reacts to anxiety.
- Affirmations. Using affirmations reaffirms a sense of confidence and can help regulate anxiety. You might repeat the sentence, “This anxiety is only temporary and will last only a few minutes.”
- Talk about your anxiety with a supportive friend.
- Dissociate or detach from it. When you feel anxious you can think about the anxiety and combine it with a pleasant experience. I often ask clients to think about a peaceful place. A place they feel safe and can imagine with all five senses:
They then take a few moments to imagine being at the ocean , feeling the sun on their face and hearing the waves. This imagery produces a calming effect and detaches them from their worries.
- Visualization. Many clients visualize their anxiety to look like a cartoon with specific images and colors. I ask them to picture this image and then imagine this image becomes fainter or smaller until it disappears. Clients report that when they use this exercise their anxiety becomes more manageable.
- To prevent heightened anxiety, other approaches such as yoga, exercise or meditation can be explored. Anxiety is something you can manage. It takes practice and hard work, but you can train your thoughts, feelings and body responses. These techniques have been quite helpful in the reduction of extreme anxiety.
To learn more about the management of anxiety, I would recommend these two books, which offer extensive techniques that have been quite successful in the reduction of anxiety:
Embracing the Fear—Learning to Manage Anxiety and Panic Attacks, by Judith Bemis and AMR Barrada
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Fourth Edition, by Martha Davis, PhD, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW, and Matthew McKay, PhD.