Have you ever struggled with managing anxiety? A racing heart? The shortness of breath?
Anxiety is a very common condition, far more so than I ever knew. When I was first diagnosed with anxiety in twenty-nineteen, I was relieved. I had always assumed there was something wrong with, more than just anxiety or depression. The symptoms and thoughts I’d been experiencing stretched back further than I can even remember. So, naturally, I assumed it was a symptom of something much scarier. But it turns out that everything I’d been experiencing was anxiety in its many different forms. And that the likelihood of me developing anorexia nervosa was also the impact of my chronic anxiety.
As far as I can remember I’ve always been a worrier. There have been nights where I’ve laid awake worrying about everything and anything that came into my mind. I’ve worried about the things I’ve said and done over the last ten years ago, and I’ve even fretted over the things far outside my control. In the last few years of my life, the small glimpses of that worry have grown into something much, much bigger. Not only does the anxiety plague me at night but it clings to me throughout the day, reminding me that there’s always something to worry about.
What anxiety symptoms should you look out for?
It’s natural to be worried sometimes. Especially when there are big life changes, exams, grief and anything that stirs massive emotion. It’s a natural human response and serves a very specific purpose! The fight, flight or freeze response is left over from a time when survival was our biggest concern. Not the thought of a phone call or taking the bus!
However, problems start to arise when anxiety creeps into our everyday life. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may be living with chronic anxiety and should speak to your GP or a medical professional.
- Feelings of anxiety are very strong and last for a long period of time.
- Your worries feel out of proportion.
- You’re beginning to avoid situations that cause you to feel anxious. And sometimes these can be inconvenient such as avoiding work or public transport.
- Your worries feel very distressing and you’re finding it hard to control.
- You’re regularly experiencing symptoms of anxiety. This includes, but isn’t limited to digestive issues, feeling light headed or dizzy, pins and needles, feeling restless, chronic headaches or other aches in the body, rapid breathing, increase heart rate, sweating, problems sleeping, grinding your teeth at night, feeling nauseous and even panic attacks!
- You’re finding it hard to get on with life as you want to.
While I recommend speaking to a medical professional, it’s important to remember that you may not necessarily require medication. Anxiety, alongside other mental health issues, can occasionally be managed by self-awareness and learning to look after yourself. This could mean things such as mindfulness, taking time to yourself, and listening to what your mind and body need.
Managing Anxiety Symptoms.
In my many years of working through my own mental health problems, I’ve come across various helpful pieces of advice. Not only do these help me manage anxiety, but they also help me remain mindful in everyday life. They remind me to slow down, stop rushing and think before I act.
Stop. Breathe. That’s it. Take it easy, slow down and take the time to breathe, I mean really breathe. In through your nose until your lungs feel full. Hold your breath for three counts, and then exhale slowly while relaxing your muscles.
It might seem silly and self-explanatory. But the first thing my therapist will ask me when I’m visibly flustered is ‘have you been breathing correctly?’ It seems like such a silly thing to say but makes so much sense. Quite often when we’re stressed we don’t take the time to fill and empty our airways fully. By following the suggestions below, we’re able to actively slow our heart rate enough to release the panic. That, and we’re better able to focus, feel more relaxed and we can even actively reduce our blood pressure. All by taking the time to do what we do every day and breathe.
Meditating is a wonderful habit to get into. While it’s difficult to start off, by practicing every day you can quickly fall into a routine. It’s important to note that meditation isn’t for everyone. I, for one, struggle with the concept of meditation. It does nothing for managing anxiety and instead makes me feel more anxious. But for some, it’s a God-send!
If you’re interested in trying meditation but you’re not sure where to start, why not try guided meditation? It’s simple to find a video or soundtrack completely free online. Find yourself a quiet spot, pop on your headphones and simply follow along with your chosen guide.
Fancy giving it a go? Here are some great examples to get you started.
There are many different types of therapy out there. But cognitive behavioural therapy is the main one used to help manage anxiety. By working with a licensed therapist you can identify triggers and negative thought patterns. These can then be gradually changed or alleviated.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t work after just one session! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will a healthy state of mind.
Learn your triggers through journaling.
While you can work to identify any triggers on your own or in therapy, it’s always better to keep a record. That’s where journalling comes in. When we write down what we’re feeling and why we can eventually start to see patterns. For example, some people find caffeine heightens their anxiety, while others may see a chance when drinking alcohol. But, like many things, it may not always be as simple as that.
It’s important to make a note of any other stressors going on in life. This could be financial, work-related or even health anxiety. When it comes to these bigger issues it’s not as simple as cutting down your daily cups of coffee. It might mean seeking alternative help through therapy, friends or confiding in your boss.
Keep a note of what you discover, how you’re managing anxiety at the time and anything you try to alleviate it. Over time this should give you a clear indication as to what helps and what doesn’t. Not only that but writing it down allows you to refer back to your progress at any time.
The most common way to practice this is the 5-4-3-2-1 method.
- Five. Name five things you see around you. These can be objects, paintwork, clutter or even things outside the window. Count out those five things.
- Four. Name four things you can touch. Again, count these down.
- Three. Listen and name three things you can hear. Remember, your breath or the sound of your heart in your ears count.
- Two. Note two things you can smell.
- One. Finally, make a note of one thing you can taste in your mouth.
Make a list of things you want yourself to believe— things that will gradually replace your negative thoughts. Repeat them to yourself every day, multiple times a day if necessary. Your brain is elastic and will eventually believe them.
Speak to your doctor about medication.
Sometimes medication is the only way forward. My brain may be wired differently than yours, and there is no shame in that. Speak to your doctor about prescription medications or any alternative medications they may suggest to give your brain some extra help.