How Can I Manage My Anxiety?
As we have learned, anxiety is not an illness and so can't be cured. If we break into the vicious circle, however, we can learn ways of lowering your anxiety and getting it to be more manageable. We can work on at least four different areas:
- Understanding your anxiety better and beginning to tackle some of the causes.
- Reducing physical symptoms.
- Altering your thoughts related to anxiety.
- Changing your behaviours related to anxiety.
- Understanding and beginning to tackle anxiety
You may already by now have some ideas about what is causing your anxiety. The following sections will give advice on how to break out of the vicious cycle that keeps anxiety going. Before you can do this though, it is really useful for you to understand your own anxiety better. Is your anxiety related to certain situations, places or people, is it worse at particular times of the day, are there realistic worries you have that would make anyone anxious? The following two exercises should help you to understand your anxiety better.
- Anxiety Diary - For a period of two weeks (or longer if you wish) keep an hourly diary of your anxiety and activity level. Rate your anxiety from 0-10. Write down anything that seems important. Were you at work or home, who were you with, what were you doing, what were you thinking about? You may start to become more aware of situations that make you anxious or that you may even be avoiding. What is your general level of stress like? This data will help you begin to tackle your anxiety.
- Problem Solving - If you become aware that you have a realistic worry or problem that you feel may be causing you anxiety, a problem solving approach may help.
A good way to begin is to write down the problem. Define it as clearly as you can, for example "I never have any money", is too vague. Something like "I owe £5000 to different credit card or loan companies", is more helpful. Next, think of as many possible solutions as you can. It doesn't matter how silly you may think the solutions are , the point is to think of as many as you can. Try to think how you have solved similar problems in the past. Ask a friend what they might do. Think to yourself what you might advise a friend to do if thaey had the same problem. Then, write down all the possible solutions:
- Get all debts on one loan with less interest;
- Agree on affordable payments;
- See a debt counsellor;
- Get a part-time job;
- sell the car etc.
Choose what seems like the best and effective solution and write down all the steps it would take to achieve that solution. Who might help? What might go wrong? Often it is helpful to think, "What is the worst thing that could happen"? If you can think of a plan or strategy to cope with this, your anxiety levels might reduce.
If you are trying to come up with a plan to tackle a problem that has been constantly worrying you for some time, it is often helpful to discuss this with a friend or even your doctor.
- Stressful Lifestlye - Nowadays life is often stressful, and it is easy for pressures to build up. We can't always control the stress that comes from outside but we can find ways to reduce the pressure we put on ourselves:
- Try to identify situations you find stressful by noticing the beginnings of tension.
- Take steps to tackle what it is about these situations that you find stressful.
- Make sure you have time for things you enjoy.
- Take up a relaxing hobby like Yoga for example.
- Make sure you get sufficient sleep.
- Eat a well balanced diet.
- Take regular exercise.
- Learn to relax.
2. Reducing Physical Symptoms
In order to reduce the severity of physical symptoms it is useful to "nip them in th bud", by recognising the early signs of tension.
Once you have noticed early signs of tension you can prevent anxiety becoming too severe by using relaxation techniques. Some people can relax through exercise, listening to music, watching tv, or reading a book.
For others it is more helpful to have a set of exercises to follow. Some people might find relaxation or yoga classes most helpful, others find tapes/cds useful..There may be a wide number of relaxation tapes/cds available in the shops or online.
Relaxation is a skill like any other which needs to be learned, and takes time. The following exercise teaches deep muscle relaxation, and many people find it very helpful in reducing overall levels of tension and anxiety.
Deep Muscle Relaxation - It is helpful to read the instructions on this hub first (or print them off) and learn them eventually. Start by selecting quite a warm, comfortable place where you won't be disturbed. To start with choose a time of the day when you feel most relaxed. Lie down, get comfortable, close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes, breathing slowly and calmly: in two-three and out two-three. Say the words 'calm' or 'relax' to yourself as you breathe out. The relaxation exercise takes you through different muscle groups, teaching you firstly to tense, then relax. You should breathe in when tensing and breathe out when you relax. Starting with your hands, clench one fist tightly. Think about the tension this produces in the muscles of your hand and forearm.
Study the tension for a few seconds and then relax your hand. Notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation. You might feel a slight tingling, this is the relaxation beginning to develop. Do the same with the other hand.
Each time you relax a group of muscles think how they feel when they're relaxed. Don't try to relax, just let go of the tension. Allow your muscles to relax as much as you can. Think about the difference in the way they're tense. Now do the same for the other muscles of your body. Each time tense them for a few seconds and then relax. Study the way they feel and then let go of the tension in them.
It is useful to adhere to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
- Hands - clench fist, then relax.
- Arms - bend your elbows and tense your arms. Feel the tension, espiacially in your upper arms. Remember, do this for a few seconds and then relax.
- Neck - press your head back and roll it from side to side slowly. Feel how the tension moves. Then bring your head forward into a comfortable position.
- Face - there are several muscles here, but it is enough to think about your forehead and jaw. First lower your eyebrows in a frown. Relax your forehead. You can also raise your eyebrows, and then relax. Now, clench your jaw, notice the difference when you relax.
- Chest - take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, notice the tension, then relax. Let your breathing return to normal.
- Stomach - tense your stomach muscles as tight as you can and relax.
- Buttocks - squeeze your buttocks together, and relax.
- Legs - straighten your legs and bend your feet towards your face. Finish by wiggling your toes.
You may find it helpful to get a friend to read the instructions to you. Don't try too hard, just let it happen naturally.
To make the best use of relation you need to:
- Practice daily.
- Start to use relaxation in everyday situations.
- Learn to relax without having to tense muscles.
- Use parts of the relaxation to help in difficult situations, example - breathing slowly.
- Develop a more relaxed lifestyle.
Remember relaxation is a skill like any other and takes time to learn. Keep a note of how anxious you feel before and after relaxation, rating your anxiety 1-10.