Quite a few people have come to me for help because they feel anxious. One of the first things I want to say is that nearly everyone will have experiences in their life that they worry, or feel some degree of stress or anxiety about, this is normal. How we then deal with these feelings can be really important in whether or not they are something which we experience in passing, in response to one off events, or become a pattern of thinking and feeling that stops us from enjoying our lives, because we are almost constantly anxious, or worrying about something.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
The physical symptoms of anxiety are pretty common: dry mouth, elevated breathing and heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, upset stomach, sweating, trembling, unable to concentrate, sleep disturbances to name but a few. This reaction is what is known as the “flight or fight mechanism”, it is an instinctive physical response to danger, that is designed to help us get away from a threat. What is happening in the body is that chemicals are being released to enable us to literally take flight, that is, run away or to fight, to protect ourselves physically. Now, as a response to a genuine danger, for example, enabling us to leap out of the way of a car, as we are about to cross a busy road, it is appropriate and helpful. If it is in response to an upcoming social situation or a presentation at work it may not be helpful at all, but in fact get in our way and stop us from enjoying the experience.
There are a number of significant factors that I think play a large part in why some people experience high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. Here are two of them:
Firstly they have great difficulty in soothing themselves when they do feel nervous, anxious or stressed so do not easily return to a state of calmness.
Secondly, they are often have experienced one of more of the following –
- A recent event that may have triggered feelings of stress and anxiety.
- A traumatic, frightening or distressing event when they were a child that they have been unable to come to terms with.
- One of more of their parents or caregivers often used to worry about them, or were themselves someone who often got anxious.
Self-Help Strategies for Anxiety
So, what can anyone who gets anxious do to help themselves. Here are five suggestions that you may find helpful:
1) Put in place a regime to improve your general health and well-being. For example cut down on stimulants – reduce how much tea and coffee you drink, particularly in the evenings. Take regular exercise. Eat healthily.
2) Learn how to relax. Make time at least once a day to undertake a relaxation exercise or activity.
3) Develop a series of activities that occupy your mind and provide an interesting distraction for times when you are stressed.
4) Talk about what is worrying you to someone you trust.
5) Challenge your thinking and your worries by reality testing your fears.
Do you often feel anxious? Have you experienced anxiety in your life and learned how to deal with the feelings differently? I’d like to hear your stories.