Heart racing. Sweating from places you didn’t know you could sweat from. Aches. Pains. Nausea. Upset stomach. Feeling like you are going to die.
That is what anxiety feels like.
In the midst of an anxiety attack, if the ground opened up and swallowed your whole, you would be more than happy. Well, I would be anyhow!
The weather today is increasing concern followed by full-blown dread. ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Diary, 2003
I’ve experienced anxiety at work, in the midst of a networking event, at parties, in crowded nightclubs and pubs, in the car, in the kitchen, during the middle of the night, and – strangest of all – in the middle of a jetty (it was a long jetty…). I’ve worked for years on ways to overcome anxiety, some that have worked, some that haven’t.
Here’s 14 ways to deal with anxiety. Ways that have helped me live less-stressful and fulfilling life.
Talk to someone
When you’re borderline freaking out, instead of turning inwards which is a fairly natural response, pick up that phone and talk to someone (I know – that’s so old school right!). It could be someone you know or someone you don’t know. There are so many amazing help lines and other groups out there, there is someone for everyone to talk to.
Or, if you are around people, why not tap your friend, colleague or partner on the shoulder and ask them to go for a little walk – and then either talk to them about how you are feeling or about mindless, randomness.
Go easy on yourself
The important thing is to recognise what is happening to you, to accept it, and to tell yourself that what is happening is not life-threatening and it’s not the end of the world (even though it feels like it).
Try not to focus on the anxiety or give yourself a beating for allowing it to happen as this will cause your anxiety to escalate.
Anxiety tip: Remember – This too shall pass.
Yes, remember to breathe.
Okay, breathing is easier said than done, I admit, especially when experiencing a panic attack, but it is one of the most important things to do!
When anxiety hits, try to focus on the process of breathing only. Not forcing your breathing to change – if you are anything like me this might make you hyperventilate. I’m talking about being aware of your breathing because you might be shallow breathing, holding your breath when stressed, or simply forgetting to breathe.
Here’s an exercise you can try:
- Close your eyes and just allow yourself to breathe.
- Don’t worry about how deeply or shallowly you may be breathing, just breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Focus on the process of breathing.
- Once again, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Notice your breath – how does the air feel entering your body? Is it warm? Is it cool? Is it hurried or shallow or deep?
- And on leaving your body – how different does the air feel ? Is it warmer? Is it rushed, or is it slower?
- Now focus on your body and on the rise and fall of your chest and stomach as your breathe in and out.
- With each new breath take the air in deep into your abdomen, and then release.
- As you continue to breathe exhale slower and slower.
- And with each breath start to visualise exhaling out your stressors.
Anxiety tip: Guided meditation sessions and Dharma talks by Tara Brach are my favourite way to relax whilst also opening up my mind to another way of thinking. A more mindful way of thinking. I find Tara’s voice very relaxing, and she provides many insights throughout her talks to digest.
For those who are prone to anxiety, it’s best to observe your body and how caffeine impacts you.
Be truthful with yourself. Does caffeine help or hinder you? Are those mid-afternoon crashes really just you feeling tired or is it the after effects of drinking caffeine?
I work best on no more than one coffee a day. That’s it. If I break my ‘rule’ I suffer from everything from heart palpitations to nausea and panic attacks.
Mindfulness is a great way to hone into the present moment and growing evidence suggests that mindfulness has enormous physical and mental health benefits, including significantly reducing the recurrence of major depressive episodes in patients who have been treated for depression and reducing blood pressure (SOURCE: Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, UMass Medical School. “Issues in the Administration of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program”, 2013, p. 14 ).
Stop what it is you are doing and find a place to sit.
Practice being in the present moment.
Be where you are now.
Not in the past, when something happened, or in the future, when something might happen.
Right now where you are.
Right at this second.
Anxiety tip: If you’re are experiencing a lot of problems with anxiety, check out a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program near you. If you are in Perth, Western Australia, I highly recommend the MBSR program run by Mind and Movement – it changed my life!
Listen to music that is good for your soul
Have you got a favorite ‘happy’ song or something that brings good memories to mind?
Load them onto your phone so that you can take them everywhere you go (along with some good headphones), that way if you feel a panic attack coming on, you can plug in your earphones, switch on your song and tune out of your environment and anxiety.
Why not go that extra step and collate an ‘anxiety’ playlist – a list of songs that will guarantee to do the job and calm your mind. That way you will always be prepared.
Hug it out
Don’t be afraid to ask for a hug.
Grab someone you feel comfortable with (and who feels comfy with hugging) and give them a big bear hug OR let them hold you. There’s nothing like a big bear hug! Try to hold your hug for 12 seconds and really feel the connection between your hearts.
Yoga is great for stretching out the body whilst allowing you to breathe easier, gain clarity of mind and help you to relax.
Personally, this is the first thing I do every morning (after the obligatory bathroom stop and before my daily coffee!). I allow myself at least 10 minutes for yoga stretching, as I have found that it really helps me to wake up, to clear my head for the morning and to center me for the day. It also helps me stretch out any of those chinks in my body from sleeping. I love doing yoga at home, as the truth is if I need to head out for a session I usually talk myself out of it especially if I’m feeling anxious.
Investigate yoga programs, Apps, Podcasts or YouTube video series you can do from the comfort of your own home. Some of the yoga videos I’ve checked out leave me more stressed than when I started and with a strained neck. Honestly, I don’t want to sit there watching some cut yogi in her designer workout gear try and teach me yoga at breakneck speed. No. I want to relax. And I don’t want to sit there feeling completely inadequate. I like something more down to earth and real which is why I love Yoga TX – a couple of chicks who love and teach yoga respectfully from beginners level and up. Their lessons are especially gentle on your body and mind and I love their videos for anxiety / stress, and lower back pain and sciatica relief.
The health benefits of meditation have been proven over centuries, with research from 163 DIFFERENT STUDIES suggesting that mindfulness-meditation practice had an overall POSITIVE EFFECT on improving anxiety and stress.ut it can be a challenging habit to cultivate.
Do yourself a favor and load some meditation podcasts or Apps onto your phone so that you can take them wherever you go. Carry a pair of headphones around with you too so that you can truly immerse yourself in a time of need.
But meditation can be a challenging habit to cultivate so ease your way into it by starting gently. I started by taking a community class in mindfulness meditation and continued by loading some meditation podcasts and Apps onto my phone to take wherever I went. Be comforted by the thought that even long-term meditators still have their moments where they struggle. The key is not to pass judgment on yourself and to find what works best for you.
Anxiety tip: Carry a pair of headphones around with you so that you can truly immerse yourself in a guided meditation whenever you need.
Tread the pavement lightly
A nice long walk is the best cure for almost everything, and if you don’t have time for a long walk don’t stress! Even 5 minutes will help (although a long walk by the beach is the bomb!). So next time anxiety hits, leave wherever you are (if you can) and go for a gentle / slow walk around the block, to the park, along the beach… wherever! The movement and fresh air will do you the world of good.
Write Yourself Free
You need to get whatever is in your head out.
Grab yourself a nice little notebook and a few colourful pens and carry them with you wherever you go. When in need, allow yourself to write out your thoughts without overthinking. What you write doesn’t need to make sense. Just allow the streams of consciousness to flow. The whole process of writing with a pen and paper is cathartic and it will make you will better and possibly less overwhelmed.
Handy resource: Here’s some wonderful ideas: 105 Writing Prompts for Self-Reflection and Self Discovery.
If you’re stuck, I love writing lists. Just remember to keep them simple so you don’t get overwhelmed!
Here’s some ideas to get you started:
- What are grateful for, right now?
- What are you proud of?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What, or who, do you love?
- What puts a smile on your dial?
- List 10 things you love.
Check out some of my lists for added inspiration:
Take a well-deserved break
Allow yourself to take a break REGULARLY. Yes, I said regularly. Not just once a day… or week.
Do yourself a favour and actually GET UP out of your chair or step away your desk or whatever it is you are doing and take a 10-minute break (at least – it should really be longer).
Now, go and do something completely different. Even ‘mindless’. Sit on a park bench and soak up the fresh air. Grab a coffee and sit quietly in a cafe.
Most importantly, SWITCH OFF. I know it’s hard but it will help if you leave the phone behind in your desk drawer or bag. Out of sight out of mind, they say (well… eventually, it will be that way. You will first need to re-train your brain to be that way).
Talk to a councillor or see a doctor, and remember – there is nothing wrong with seeking or asking for help.
Anxiety Tip: my word to you is this – don’t settle. Find someone you feel comfortable with and who you trust – otherwise, it will be pretty much pointless. And do keep in mind that it’s good to see a councillor every now and then. It’s a good way get things off of your chest, and once they get to know you they can recognise the signs and help you BEFORE things escalate.
Remember that everyone – everyone – feels anxiety in some degree at some stage of their life.
Remember that you are not alone. There is someone out there feeling the same as you. There is help a phone call, text message, DM away…
Remember that you do have strength within you.
Remember that it everything WILL be okay.
Remember that this too shall pass.
And remember to never feel ashamed.
Some Additional Mental Health Articles
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