Five tips on managing anxiety

We look at five practical things you can do to help manage your anxiety when it strikes. 

Anxiety can feel absolutely horrendous. There’s no two ways about it. That awful feeling in the pit of your stomach, the feeling of utter panic, and your mind racing a million miles. So to help control some of these symptoms, it can be  helpful to have a ‘fast five’- five quick and easy things you can do to help manage anxiety when it arises.

1.  Breathe

Sounds easy, right?  When you’re stressed, you tend to breathe faster, but not as deeply, only using a portion of your full lung capacity. Breathing in this way can make your heart pump at a million miles an hour, and you may feel like your blood is rushing through your body, and feel that adrenalin surge that often accompanies anxiety. So it can help to slow your breathing down, breathing slowly and deeply in and out, using your diaphragm.  

2.  Check your self-talk

A big part of anxiety lies in what your thoughts say. Your internal self-talk can be a powerful thing, helping to direct your mood and in turn, behaviour. By learning to tune into your thoughts, you can work out whether they’re helping or hindering you, and then through gathering this evidence, balance those thoughts out. This can go a long way to help managing anxiety. 

This technique is the cornerstone of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), long regarded as one of the best therapies for treating anxiety disorders. 

3.  Catastrophe scale

Anxiety  can really get its hook in, and can convince you that if there’s a worst that could happen, it will. This can easily lead to worrying about the ‘what ifs’. And it can impact on your life, making you more sensitive to pain and fears , as one study found with patients undergoing dental procedures.  Something helpful to combat such worries is to gently challenge them by asking yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen? And if the worst happens, what does that mean?” Having a catastrophe scale (a scale that goes from 0= ‘breaking a nail’ to 100= ‘the world imploding’) can help you assess how bad things are, and whether they could be worse. 
Couple sitting on bed holding hands

4.  Talk it out

Anxiety is an internalising disorder meaning that it makes you want to shrink into yourself and hide away from the world. The anxiety may tell you to keep it to yourself, but actually, it can be more helpful to do the opposite. Talk it out. 
Finding trusted people and opening up about anxiety is vital in managing it. Just having a chat, and the support from others may prompt you to seek further help. One study found  that 75% of people who had sought psychological help were recommended to seek help by someone they knew,  and 94% knew someone who had previously sought help themselves. The more you talk about it, the more normal it may become, and the more help you may receive. 
The NHS in the UK also has some great information on talk therapies and their benefits.

5.  Sit with It

It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it’s the truth. The thing with anxiety is that it can feel downright life-threatening at times. Crippling. But anxiety is like a wave, it comes up, it peaks and then it goes down. Sometimes as hard as it sounds, the only way to get over anxiety is to go through it. Using a ‘step plan’ can help to desensitise yourself. You can set yourself a challenge: when anxiety visits, sit with it, and notice the wave going down. Then you know you can survive it. Systematic desensitisation (as it’s called) has been found to be a useful tool in managing anxiety, particularly in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy.
While at the time it might not feel like it, you will get through the anxiety. It might not have been pretty, but you made it. Keeping a success journal may be helpful when combating anxiety. Seeing the times where you have overcome it, or have had little wins along the way can help to reinforce your efforts. Acknowledging that you have the power t o help yourself through your anxiety  can positively impact on your thoughts, motivation, and your ability to combat any future difficulties. 

If you'd like to learn more about anxiety or mental health, click here for additional Blue Room resources.

Anyone concerned about their mental health, or the mental health of others, is encouraged to reach out to their GP. There are also a range of services available for anyone who needs help. For young people between 12 and 24 years old headspace offers confidential online counselling, phone assistance, or you can walk into one of their centres. For adults,MindSpot and beyondblue also offer free telephone and online support services. If you need to speak to someone urgently you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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