Friday, 20 May 2016

9 ways to reduce anxiety

When you're feeling anxiety or there is a period in your life that you feel is particularly ruled by your anxiety, you may feel like your stuck in this rut and unsure of how to make it better. Let me tell you honestly, I am there right now.

For a period of time, I have felt like my anxiety is taking over my life and it just isn't going away. Every day is a fighting battle to get up in the morning and leave the house. It just seems unthinkable. The hardest part of all, I've found for a long time I could handle my anxiety and knew ways of dealing with it. But I am stuck in a rut. However, once I chose that actually anxiety is not going to rule my life and started doing the things I know work. Hey ho, I am feeling like I rule the freaking world!

When you're feeling anxious, you might hyperfocus on the future and get carried away with what-ifs.

What if I have a panic attack at work? What if the pain gets worse? What if there is seriously something wrong with me? What if a totally fail this exam? What if they don't like me? What if I don't get the house?

You might judge and hate yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts. But trust me, you are not alone. And definitely not correct.

Thankfully, I'm here to pass on my years of wisdom (ok, I'm 19 but I have had years of struggle) of dealing with anxiety, seeing counsellors, searching online for tools and techniques you can use to manage your anxiety effectively.

1. Take a deep breath 

This may sound stupid, but seriously do it. The first thing you need to do is breath, deeply and slowly. When my anxiety begins to build up I feel like I can't breath and like I am going to have a panic attack. Not sure if you're the same?

But why does taking a deep breath reduce anxiety? Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body's relaxation response. You know the whole fight or flight thing? Yeah, it makes the body go from that to a relaxed state.

What I do is, inhale to a count of 8 (I learnt this in yoga - you can do 4 counts tho as 8 is a bit much probably) filling my belly and then my chest (also learnt in yoga), hold the breath in for the count of 4 and slowly exhale on the count of 8 (or 4 obvs - whatever works for you). And then repeat is several times.


2. Accept that you're anxious. 

This may sound like a really stupid one but seriously if you think about it, when your anxious are you usually thinking "Oh it's ok, anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling". Na, you're probably not. So do it. It helps.

It's as simple as reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, which is set off by certain triggers, personal to you and shared by a lot of people. This helps you to start to accept it, and not get anxious about being anxious and thinking you are crazy for feeling this way. All I wanted to do was get some milk from the shops and I can't even do that, why am I so crazy? I hate this. I can't cope. I'm so weird. Na-uh, say bye to that feeling. It's normal.

And don't think I'm saying accept it to accept that your life is going to be full of anxiety related misery. That's not true. It just means that by accepting reality by the way it is, and not putting yourself down for feeling like this, it actually has a weird way of reducing anxiety. Weird huh?

3. Realise your brain is being a moron to you

OK, maybe not but it's playing tricks on your like your brother/sister used to when you were little. It's being mean. I'll explain this for you with a little anecdote.

I remember my first ever panic attack, like I'm sure a lot of you do and will never forget it. I honestly thought I was dying. I was like why can I not breath? Why does my arm hurt? Why does my chest hurt? My belly is cramping? What is going on, am I having a heart attack? Of course I wasn't but that's what it felt like.

Your brain can make you feel like and act like you are actually having a heart attack or something similar in seriousness. What you need to believe is that, your brain is playing tricks on you, you're having a panic attack and it will soon pass and you will be ok. Panicking while having a panic attack is probably the worst thing. But we've all been there, and probably most of the time we have one, we think we are dying. Just remember, your brain is a moron and you're very much here and alive :)

4. Question your thoughts

What I actually learnt this week at counselling, was to seriously question my thoughts. When you are anxious, so many things pop into your head which are pretty outrageous, unrealistic and very unlikely to occur. Every time that happens, questions yourself and those thoughts.

You're about to do a presentation at work or school. Oh my god, I can't do this. I'm going to die. Very unlikely to happen. Think about the evidence for and against this thought. I'm pretty sure no one has died giving a presentation. Remind yourself, this isn't a catastrophe. Yes, you may be anxious that you will make mistakes, say the wrong word. But seriously, people will give a few chuckles and by tomorrow they'd of forgotten about it. Laugh it off and move on.

Think about challenging your thoughts using these questions:

  • What is the evidence for this thought? 
  • What is the evidence against this thought? 
  • If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
  • Is my worry realistic? 
  • What can I do to prepare for whatever may or may not happen? 

5. Use calming visualisation 

I'll be honest, I do not do this one. It annoys me and just doesn't work. I was at work the other day having a major anxiety attack and a colleague sat me in a room and was chatting to me and said, find 3 things that are red in this room. I looked round, saw nothing instantly that was red and was like oh go away, I'm not doing it. 

Now, I can see why it works. Because you concentrate on your surroundings and finding something red. But you know what I was thinking.. What if she is tricking me and there is nothing red in here? Then I've got to speak to her and tell her what's red or that I can't find anything and there's a huge red ball staring me in the face and I look stupid. Ah. 

Yeah, you see why I don't like it. But hey, it's here because it could work for you! Instead, I like to do some mindfulness in a game I like to call the AZ game (very imaginative I know). I select a category (e.g. celebrities) and start naming them for A to Z - Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Cameron Diaz etc. 

It works for me and it's fun.

6. Use positive self-talk 

This may sound crazy, but it does work. You can trick your mind into actually being pretty positive even when you anxious. This anxiety sucks but I can use strategies to manage it SO IN YOUR FACE.

7. Focus on the right here right now. 

When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing over something that might occur in the future. Instead, STOP, breath and pay attention to what's going on now.

This always reminds me of that Friends episode where Chandler is scared of commitment and becoming 'The Bings' on the day he and Monica are meant to be getting married. And Ross says to him, hey don't think about later. Just think about taking a shower. Go take a shower. Then right, put on a suit. IT'S SO GOOD.

8. Focus on meaningful activities 

So you have plans to go to the movies with an old friend in the evening. It's a Saturday, you're not working, you're just chilling at home. Instead of mindlessly obsessing over going out in the evening and how you feel, do something meaningful. The washing needs doing, do it. You need to grab some more grocery shopping. The house hasn't been cleaned all week. Do something meaningful and keep busy.

Don't sit around focusing on being anxious - that'll just make you more anxious - which is not the purpose of this post!!

Please let me know in the comments or tweet me (@iamayselulu) if there are any techniques you use and whether you found this helpful. Thanks!

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