There is a good chance you’ve experienced occasional physical and emotional distress signs related to anxiety, such as anxious breathing, your heart pounding in your chest, difficulty sleeping, feeling of dread, or endless circles of worry. That’s okay. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to experience these symptoms. This article explores what anxiety is, from the good intentions it has to when it becomes a problem, before looking at how you can cope with anxiety.
Anxiety as a protective mechanism
Your anxiety has good intentions, in that it exists to protect you from perceived harm. These protective biological responses are what can speed up your breathing and heartbeat, delivering oxygenated blood to your muscles as you brace yourself for ‘fight or flight’. Healthy anxiety can motivate you to get to work on time, influence you to study hard for an exam, or discourage you from walking through unknown areas at night. It can even helpful and protective to have a certain level of anxiety.
Anxiety as a problematic mechanism
Anxiety becomes a problem when these response systems become dysregulated. This causes us to overreact or respond to situations which, in reality, are not actually harmful to our safety or wellbeing. But when these response systems become dysregulated, our body can activate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the fight or flight response. This is what causes many of the well-known anxiety symptoms such as quicker breathing, heart palpitations, and sweating along with worrying and avoidance-orientated thoughts.
What you can do to cope with anxiety
While we all feel anxious about things from time to time, to suffer from anxiety means that worrying thoughts and other symptoms of anxiety has a more substantial impact on your daily life. So, what can we do? Alongside receiving help from a psychologist, your GP, or a mental health therapist there are other coping mechanisms available that you can try to help alleviate some of the symptoms from anxiety.
Make a Worry ‘Time’
While this may seem like a counterintuitive technique, it can be beneficial to schedule in a time to worry about any stresses you have for the day. The idea is that rather than worrying about things at random times throughout the day, you can set them aside in your mind knowing that you will come back to them. Use a journal to write down anything that comes up outside of your scheduled worry time. If it comes up quickly, jot it down and acknowledge that it will be dealt with at the “scheduled time”.
Create a Journal or a Diary
Writing down your thoughts and feelings has a way of helping to release emotions and check in on the truth and rationality of the thoughts. Especially when your mind may be racing with ideas, worries or negative thoughts that can be hard to slow down, writing them down on paper helps you see them from a more objective perspective. Even if you never re-read the pages, the idea is more about the act of writing them down and reflecting on them in the moment for clarity and peace of mind.
Use Your Breath
The breath can be a powerful modality to use to help ground and calm your nervous system. Taking a few deep breaths in and out can regulate, calm and relax your body and mind. It can be used as a way of ‘tricking’ your mind an body into a state of calm, because when you take deep breaths, your body receives signals that it is okay to transition back into the parasympathetic nervous system (your body’s relaxed state).
Getting A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep and good sleep hygiene are huge components for supporting your mental health. Sleeping at least 7-8 hours per night and turning off your phone or the tv at least an hour before bed to help you wind down and be unexposed to blue lights. You may find it a good time to do something else relaxing such as reading a book, listening to music or a podcast or a meditation. You can find out more about good sleep hygiene here.
Avoiding Alcohol, Caffeine or other Stimulants
It may be difficult since alcohol and caffeine can be a big part of our everyday or social lives, but avoiding them can be beneficial as they can contribute to symptoms of anxiety (i.e., increased heart rate, negative self-talk, worrying thoughts).
Movement and exercise allows for a release in endorphins which helps regulate a positive mood and lowers stress. While there are so many positive benefits for your body, exercising can also help you feel more confident and strong in your body.
Healthy and Mindful Eating
Regularly eating healthy and balanced meals can have a great impact on your overall mental and physical health. While most people think of healthy eating as clean eating and staying away from processed foods, it is also important to think of ‘healthy’ eating in terms of what makes you feel good. This means treating yourself! Part of a mindful eating includes recognising that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, and allowing yourself to treat yourself every now and then if it makes you feel ‘good’.
Self-care includes anything that involves doing things that make you feel good. These can include re-watching your favourite film, having a warm bath, going to a dance class or reading a novel. Setting some time out for yourself to recharge everyday can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.
Spending Time with Family, Friends or a Pet
Being around the people you care about is immensely rewarding. Something as simple as petting your cat or playing with your dog can do wonders for your mental wellbeing. Speaking to someone you trust about your mental health can also be very validating, and can lift some weight from your shoulders.
Understanding anxiety isn’t always easy. As there are different types, causes and symptoms, coming up with strategies might not feel straight forward. As the list above adds helpful coping strategies it is always beneficial to speak to your local GP or psychologist to gain more clarity on mental health understanding specifically for you. If you’d like to contact us at COPE Centre, you can do so here.