As a therapist who specialises in working with anxiety it saddens me to see the impact that anxiety has on people's lives, especially over these last few months with Covid-19, when I have seen anxiety start to rise.
With the ever changing environment, new guidelines and changing rules no wonder we are anxious.
We are anxious about what we can and can't do, we are anxious about the future, we are anxious about the virus and we are anxious about ourselves and our loved ones.
Sometimes things happen and you start to feel your anxiety rising, you get that uncomfortable feeling warning you that anxiety is on the horizon, but you are able to get control of your anxiety.
However there are also many times when your anxiety gets out of control and you are unable to calm yourself down.
Being able to manage your anxiety can take a lot of practice and the work I do with my clients helps them to:-
A) Understand why they are feeling anxious about things
B) What might trigger their anxiety
C) What their personal early warning signs are for their anxiety
D) Introduce tools and strategies into their life that help them manage their anxiety
E) Learn how to use these tools and strategies effectively
F) Find new coping strategies
G) Break the vicious cycle of anxiety
H) Start to lead a life where anxiety is manageable
Working with my clients on a one to one basis can really help to change things however some people, for whatever reason, may not be ready for counselling, but
that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to learn some ways to help manage your anxiety.
This blog will introduce you to some strategies that my clients and I work with and will hopefully help you cope a little better in those moments when anxiety becomes too overwhelming for you.
(If you feel more guided tuition on these strategies will be helpful to you then you can sign up for my e-mail course with video guidance and information sheets.
These are not going to work instantly for you, but if you spend some time practising them and introducing them into your daily routine then you should start to see a difference in how you can control your anxiety.
It's not about getting rid of your anxiety but knowing how to live with it so it does not control you.
Here are 3 ways to help you in those moments of anxiety
1. REMAIN IN THE HERE AND NOW
Anxiety is driven by the fear of the future, what might be, all the what if’s that you ask yourself.
One of the most effective ways of being able to manage your anxiety is to stop yourself worrying about what MIGHT happen and instead bring yourself back into the present time, the HERE AND NOW, where you have some control of what happens.
Often you will find it is not the situation you are in that is causing you the anxiety, but your thoughts that something terrible is going to happen because of the situation.
We call this magnifying or catastrophising. These are cognitive distortions, distorting the facts through opinion, conjecture and your imagination.
You will very likely be getting out your crystal ball to predict the terrible things that are going to happen.
Putting your crystal ball away and bringing yourself back to the here and now, acknowledging and accepting how you are feeling, and putting it into context with what is happening for you in the moment will help stop your thoughts running away with you.
Anxiety is fuelled by the inability to control what happens in the future and the inability to control what other people might do, focusing on yourself and the present moment gives you more control.
Living in the present moment has huge benefits in reducing anxiety.
But how do you bring yourself back to the present moment if your anxiety has started to run away with you?
2. BREATHING AND GROUNDING TECHNIQUES
Never underestimate the power of controlled breathing
Breathing a little deeper than usual will help to calm you both mentally and physically.
It can help reduce your adrenaline rush and reduce your stress hormone levels.
It is recommended you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth (but if you find this difficult controlled breaths in & out are fine)
When you focus on your breathing it distracts you from your thoughts and feelings.
allowing you to start to moving back into that important place, the here and now.
3 Breathing techniques you can try
1. 4, 7. 8 breathing
Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8.
2. Box breathing
Draw a box as you breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, and hold for 4
3. Buddha belly breathing
As you breathe in push your belly in and as you breath out push your belly out.
This takes some practice but it means you are not just chest breathing but using your diaphragm and allows more oxygen to fill your lungs.
Once you start to calm down do some simple grounding techniques, this helps switch back on your rational brain.
Counting-objects around the room or where you are ie how many clocks can I see, how many cars can I see etc
Using all your senses-what can you see, hear, smell, touch, taste
Looking around the room for objects beginning with certain letters, something beginning with A. something beginning with B etc
Grounding helps you switch on your rational brain and brings you back into the here and now.
Once you are calm and grounded you can put away your crystal ball and deal with your cognitive distortions
A good way to remember what you need to do is with the
3. STOPP PNEUMONIC
The stop pneumonic gives you the space to make a choice about what you want to do.
Viktor Frankl a holocaust survivor but also a psychiatrist and neurologist said
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
TAKE A BREATH
Stop- just pause for a moment, Say Stop in your head or out loud as soon as you feel your early warning signs. The earlier you say STOP the easier this will be for you.
Take a breath-notice your breathing and take your time to regulate your breathing-see tip 2
Observe- observe yourself,
what are your thoughts? Where is your focus of attention? What are you reacting too? What physical sensations are you aware of?
ground yourself-see tip 2
Pull back and put in some perspective- Your thoughts are likely to be distorted, those cognitive distortion we talked about in tip 1
Take a helicopter view, that is observe the situation from above so you can see the whole thing, not just the piece you are focusing on.
What advice would you give to a friend in the same situation? Is what I am thinking fact or opinion? How important will this be in 1 month, 6 months, a year.
This moment will pass
Practice what works for you and proceed- what is helping you feel calmer, do more of it. What is the most helpful thing I can do right now, not later right now,
Where do I need to focus my attention right now. Be in the here and now and do what works for you in that moment.
Practicing STOPP gives you the choice about what to do rather than your anxiety being in control
This will not come naturally to you, you will need to take time to practice it