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How To Cope Effectively With Anxiety

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Coping with Anxiety

Have you been told that anxiety is simply your fight or flight system kicking in when you perceive a threat to your or a loved one’s physical safety? One that involves physical changes to your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing? Have you been told it’s just a common human emotion that will pass when it’s ready? Have you thought, hold on, surely anxiety is more complex than that! My anxiety doesn’t pass when it’s ready. Perhaps you’ve asked, why do I also feel tension, worry, and have racing thoughts that go around and around to the point where I can’t stop ruminating and worrying? Often about the smallest things that have absolutely no physical threat to me or others I love. And why does it impact my ability to concentrate and focus and fall asleep at night?

While anxiety serves as a natural response to stress or danger, anxiety can escalate, leading to a range of psychological and physical symptoms that impact daily life.

In today’s fast-paced world, effectively managing anxiety is not just advantageous; it is crucial for maintaining mental well-being and a high quality of life. This article aims to explore anxiety, its effects, and the different ways individuals can cope with it. From understanding the basics of anxiety to employing effective management strategies and seeking support from professionals like ST&A Psychology Northern Beaches, we can provide anxiety counselling and practical advice and techniques to help you navigate through anxious moments.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety can go beyond the temporary worry or fear that everyone experiences from time to time. It can be a pervasive and persistent feeling of apprehension that can cause significant distress and interfere with daily activities. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions, affecting millions worldwide.

These disorders can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Characterised by persistent and excessive worry about any and sometimes all aspects of life.
  • Panic Disorder: Involves sudden and repeated episodes of intense fear that may lead to physical symptoms like heart palpitations, increased heart rate, sweating and breathing.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Often called Social Phobia, is marked by an intense fear of being judged negatively by others in social situations and interactions with people, often leading to avoidance behavior.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): develops when a person experiences one extremely scary, terrifying traumatic event or a series of traumatic events over time. These stressful or traumatic events usually involve a situation where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred. People with PTSD often feel anxious when there is no physical threat to safety or danger. PTSD is often caused through witnessing or experiencing war, a natural disaster, sexual assault, physical abuse, or a bad accident. To fit the criteria for PTSD, signs and symptoms must last for more than 1 month and interfere with your normal functioning at school, work, university, home, or relationships.

PTSD may start soon after a traumatic event(s) or develop weeks or months after the event(s). PTSD is often related to the seriousness of the traumatic events, whether the events were repeated or not, what your proximity to the events are, and what your relationship is with the victim or perpetrator of the traumatic event(s).

Signs & Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • Flashbacks, or feeling like the event is happening again
  • Trouble sleeping and nightmares of the events(s)
  • Feeling alone or detached from others
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Having angry outbursts or other extreme reactions
  • Feeling worried, guilty, or sad
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having physical pain like headaches or stomach aches
  • Avoidance of memories, thoughts, or feelings about what closely associated with traumatic events
  • Problems remembering
  • Negative beliefs about yourself or others
  • Irritability
  • Feeling very vigilant
  • Startling easily
  • Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and substance use also are seen with people who have PTSD.
  • Specific Phobias: Focused on specific objects or situations that trigger intense fear or anxiety like a fear of spiders (Arachnophobia), heights, the ocean,
  • Shared Trait: All these disorders involve unrealistic and prolonged worry, even in the absence of a clear threat or reason for concern.

Symptoms of anxiety can range from psychological manifestations like constant worry, difficulty concentrating, and irritability, to physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, muscle tension, and insomnia. Triggers for anxiety vary widely among individuals; they can be sparked by stress at work, financial pressures, health-related fears, or even seemingly minor daily hassles.

Understanding anxiety is the first step towards managing it effectively. By recognising the symptoms and triggers, individuals can begin to seek appropriate strategies and support to cope with their anxiety.

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@joicekelly?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Joice Kelly</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/man-in-orange-long-sleeve-shirt-sitting-on-gray-couch-rXrMy7mXUEs?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>

How to effectively manage your anxiety?

Coping with anxiety is a multifaceted process that requires a combination of immediate strategies to alleviate acute symptoms and long-term lifestyle adjustments to effectively manage ongoing stress.

By incorporating a holistic approach that encompasses both short-term coping mechanisms and sustainable lifestyle changes, individuals can better navigate the challenges posed by anxiety.

How to help relieve anxiety quickly

Steps you can use:

  • The Slow (not deep) Breathing Technique: Slow your breath rate down to 1 breath per 6 seconds. You can do this by watching a clock and counting in your mind on a 6 second count of “in 2-3, relax 2-3″.  Where you breathe in on the “in-2-3” words/count,  and then let your breath out on the “relax 2-3″ 3 second count. Slow, not deep, breaths can help reduce the body’s stress response and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. This 6 second breath rate is the rate at which we humans breathe when we are relaxed and not anxious or stressed, and when there is no threat to our emotional or physical safety. So the brain then learns to tell the body to relax.
  • The 5 things I can notice Technique: Identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste.
    • Really pay attention to how the shapes movements and colours look when you’re noticing what you can see.
    • Really pay attention to the volume, pitch tone of the sounds you can hear.
    • Really pay attention to the physical sensations of how warm or cold or how smooth or rough the things are that you touch.
    • Really pay attention to what those 2 things are that you can smell and what they smell like.

This helps ground you in the present moment and turn the volume up on what you are noticing and sensing, and the volume down on anxious thoughts and feelings.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense and then slowly release each muscle group, starting from your toes and working up to your head. This also helps ground you in the present moment and turn the volume up on what you are noticing and sensing, and the volume down on anxious thoughts and feelings.

How to cope with anxiety long-term

What you can put into place:

  • Understand your anxiety: Your worries and anxieties are individual to you and your life. If you write down in a diary what your thoughts and feelings are when you feel calm, and when you feel anxious or stressed, this diary can help you identify what works to reduce your anxiety and what makes it worse. This can help you manage your anxiety.
  • Worry Time: Setting aside 20 minutes worry time each afternoon (not right before bed) where you sit down with a pen and paper or your laptop or phone and type or write down all of your worries can help to stop your worries from taking over at other times. It also helps you see how irrational or unhelpful these thoughts are and that they are thoughts and not facts.
  • Practice Self Compassion & Use your Wise Reassuring Voice within: Practising self-compassion and being kinder and more gentle with yourself with some reassuring encouraging self talk can help reduce your anxiety and help you feel supported when you are by yourself. This can help you believe that you can do the very thing you’re feeling anxious about. Say to yourself: ‘I know this is hard, I understand that when you think about this or try and do this that you feel very anxious and worried and concerned, but you can do this, and you can cope with these difficult thoughts and feelings, they won’t hurt you. You’ll be ok.’
  • Be Brave & Take Action: If you take small steps towards something that makes you anxious, even in a small way, it can reduce your anxiety. For example, if public speaking makes you anxious, put together a small presentation for your friends or family. Success with small acts of bravery can help you manage your anxious feelings for bigger acts of bravery. Avoiding anxiety triggers can make you feel less anxious in the short term, but it can make you more anxious in the long term.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity releases endorphins, natural stress relievers that can improve mood and sleep and reduce your anxiety.
  • Healthy Diet: A balanced diet can affect your mood and energy levels, reducing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Sleep Hygiene: Establishing a regular, relaxing bedtime routine can improve sleep amount and quality, which in turn reduces anxiety.

The Role of Support from Friends and Family

Support from loved ones can provide a sense of stability and understanding, making it easier to cope with anxiety. Sharing your experiences and feelings with trusted individuals can also offer relief and can make you feel less isolated in your struggles.

Effective Anxiety Management Strategies

Psychological Strategies

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps identify and challenge negative thought patterns, teaching more adaptive ways of thinking and responding to anxiety-provoking situations. It also helps you to set an exposure hierarchy. A list of things, people or situations you are afraid or scared of. From most feared to least feared. You then set about approaching and staying in these situations from least feared to most, rather than avoiding these feared situations, people or things. As you move through the hierarchy of fears each fear is conquered until none of the previously feared things, people or situations evoke a high intense fear any longer. So you extinguish your fears bit by bit.
  • Mindfulness & Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Mindfulness and ACT helps you stay present and reduce rumination, a common issue in anxiety. It also helps you to notice and accept difficult, anxious thoughts and feelings, and see them for what they are, just thoughts, not facts. It helps you to make room for them without trying to get away from them. This helps you to change your relationship with anxious thoughts and feelings, so over time you learn to feel more comfortable with them, reducing the amount of time and intensity of the anxious thoughts and feelings. Your brain basically learns that these thoughts and feelings are not so important and stops sending them to you in intense ways. They become light and less distressing or intense, to the point where for some people the anxious thoughts and feelings no longer bother them at all.

Physical Strategies

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can significantly decrease anxiety symptoms by releasing tension and stress.
  • Diet: A balanced diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains, can impact your mood and energy levels, influencing anxiety levels.

Professional Treatments

  • Therapy: Various therapy forms, including psychotherapy and counseling, can provide effective strategies for managing anxiety.
  • Medication: For some, medication may be necessary to manage anxiety symptoms, typically in conjunction with therapy.

Incorporating These Techniques into Daily Life

  • Routine Practice: Incorporate Mindfulness, CBT, ACT, The Slow breathing technique, The 5 things I can Notice Technique and progressive muscle relaxation exercises into your daily routine, such as 10 minutes mindfulness practice each morning or afternoon, or ending your day with a Slow breathing technique to wind down before bed.
  • Use as Needed: Utilise techniques whenever you feel anxious or stressed, even if just for a few minutes.

How ST&A Psychology Can Help You

ST&A Psychology specialises in treating stress, trauma, and anxiety through evidence-based practices. By offering a range of services such as individual therapy sessions, ST&A Psychology aims to provide comprehensive support for those struggling with anxiety.

Services Offered:

  • Personalised Therapy Sessions: Through one-on-one therapy sessions, individuals receive personalised care, tailored to their specific needs. Our psychologists in the Northern Beaches, utilise cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Committment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness-based techniques to help clients develop coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and cultivate mindfulness practices that promote emotional well-being.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: Recognising the impact of trauma on mental health, ST&A Psychology integrates trauma-informed care into its services. Therapists are trained to address past traumas sensitively and effectively, helping individuals navigate the complexities of trauma-related anxiety with compassion and expertise.

Psychological and physical strategies, along with professional treatments, play vital roles in this process. Calming Mindfulness, present moment focus, and breathing techniques offer a quick and effective method to manage anxiety symptoms, easily integrated into daily life.

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety, remember that help is available and effective management is possible. Taking the first step towards addressing your anxiety can lead to a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

 

References:

Centre for Clinical Interventions, Government of Western Australia https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/For-Clinicians

‘Anxiety management strategies’, Beyond Blue ****https://www.beyondblue.org.au/mental-health/anxiety/treatments-for-anxiety/anxiety-management-strategies

Mental Health Australia https://mhaustralia.org/need-help

Principal Psychologist & Clinical Director

Simon Turmanis

At ST & A Psychology our psychologists are experienced in a wide-variety of areas, providing you with a broad range of coping skills and life strategies to assist you to better manage the challenges that life may be throwing your way.

View all posts by Simon Turmanis

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