Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
Just hearing the word anxiety is almost enough to make you start worrying about something. But, the truth is, everyone experiences some degree of anxiety.
Life is challenging and there are many things that prompt us to feel anxious. Some of the circumstances that cause us to worry are beyond our control, such as a family member with a serious illness. Some of our anxiety is self-imposed through poor choices or attempting to live at a pace that we can’t sustain. But regardless, the question isn’t do we ever feel anxious but how do we manage the anxiety that we do experience?
The brain’s response to anxiety is to put the body on high alert by sending out hormones to mobilize the body and mind for action (commonly known as the fight or flight syndrome).
When the stress is short-term, such as running for a cab in order to make an important meeting, your body is able to meet the demands and quickly returns to a balance point. But when the stress is chronic, your body tries to sustain the high alert status well beyond the point that is healthy.
Strategies for Managing Anxiety
Here are five proven ways to manage the short and long-term anxiety you might encounter.
1. Focus on what you can control: A lot of the anxiety revolves around people and circumstances that you can’t control. For example, your health insurance company is raising your premium well beyond what you can afford to pay. You can get yourself worked up about corporate greed and the injustice of raising premiums on average citizens or you can spend that energy working toward a solution to find a more affordable policy. In other words, focus your energy on what you can control. Granted, this is not always easy to do, but once you begin to focus on the variables that you can change through your actions, you no longer feel so helpless or overwhelmed.
2. Identify and challenge distorted thoughts: If you are prone to feel a lot of anxiety, chances are that you have faulty thoughts or beliefs that are fueling your anxiety. For example, you may see danger in a lot of everyday situations that other people see as benign. Or, you might immediately assume that when a given situation doesn’t turn out as expected that it will become a worst-case scenario. These ways of thinking are distortions and act as lenses through which you typically see the world. The way out of these distortions is to train your mind to be objective and consider the other possibilities that might be present. For example, instead of defaulting to negative about all the things that went wrong in that job interview, focus on what went well and what you might do differently the next time you are in a similar situation.
3. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is simply the act of living in the present moment. Many people who are full of anxiety tend to focus a lot of their mental energy on the future. They spend an inordinate amount of their time and energy trying to make the future as predictable as possible. This type of living is driven by fear of the unknown. But, mindfulness refocuses that energy and tries to live fully in the present. It takes practice to live in the present moment when you are used to leaning out into the future, but the present is a far more peaceful place to live.
4. Learn to breathe: Breathing exercises are one of the best and quickest ways to help regulate your body and emotion when you feel anxious. There are many breathing techniques but one of the best is called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. The technique is simple and you can do this just about anywhere. In just a few minutes you can get instant relief from anxiety. Take a deep breath in through your nose and pull the air into your lungs from the lower part of your abdomen (the diaphragm). You can tell whether you are pulling the air in properly because your abdomen (not your chest) will rise. When you’ve taken in as much air as you can, hold it for a count of 7 and then slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat this process two or three times for maximum relaxation.
5. Caring for self: It might not seem obvious, but self-care plays a large role in your ability to manage anxiety. When you are getting an adequate amount of sleep, eating healthy meals, being active on a daily basis and avoiding dependence on substances like alcohol and nicotine, you are building up your body and mind’s resilience to stress so that you can handle most of the challenges that come your way.