This blog is aimed at helping people manage their anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives, understanding a little of how our body responds to stress and anxiety is a helpful way to deal with it, then hopefully long-term problems will not occur.
We perceive situations and problems either as a challenge or a threat, if we feel the demands outweigh our resources to cope then the situation or problem becomes a stressor. If the stress is not addressed and processed, it becomes an internal stressor and moves into what we call anxiety.
There are differences between stress and anxiety.
Stress is when the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode releasing a mixture of hormones and chemicals, namely adrenaline and cortisol, these prepare the body to take physical action.
When the threat has subsided, the hormones coursing through our bodies recede and we return to a state of calm. However, if our brains are not functioning correctly, our mind says we are under threat and our systems continue to produce high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. We can only undergo ‘fight or flight’ responses for a limited amount of time before our bodies become overloaded, exhausted, unable to self-regulate and this is where problems occur.
There are overlaps between stress and anxiety, but the two emotions feed off different stressors.
With stress, the stressors are perceived from the outside in the here and now and with anxiety, the stressors are perceived from the inside and are to do with the future.
Dr David Segal, medical director at Stanford University and an expert on anxiety said, “with stress, we know what is worrying us but with anxiety, we become less aware of what we are anxious about and we start to feel anxious about being anxious.”
Anxiety is very real and can be experienced as chronic, generalised, or sporadic shorts burst known as acute anxiety or panic attacks. Anxiety is accompanied by nervousness, symptoms include sweating, palpitations, raised heart rate, somatic complaints and rumination or feeling like you are drowning but you are not in water.
So why do some people suffer more with stress and anxiety than others?
This is to do with our early life experiences, our attachment styles, how we are taught to self-regulate and self soothe by our primary caregiver, and our ‘epigenetics’ (epigenetics are a transmission of information from one generation to the next, it can be viewed as our inheritance and acquired characteristics)
If you suffer from anxiety, it is really important that you seek help either from your GP, a counsellor, or health care professional. When you are anxious, it is usually because you are thinking about ‘What if’ and anticipating a bad outcome. One of the biggest fears of someone dealing with anxiety is losing control in public, trapped in an uncomfortable situation, feeling humiliation and being judged.
Some useful tips to manage your anxiety:
Breathe, in through your nose out through your mouth. Instead of just taking deep breaths, imagine you have a balloon in your stomach and take longer to exhale than inhale.
Remind yourself it is a panic attack, not a heart attack, you are experiencing a sympathetic nervous system response and it will pass. Excitement and anxiety have similar physical sensations, the difference is, how our mind labels them.
Body scan, do this with your eyes closed or looking at a single point. Tighten and relax each muscle group, start with your toes, focus on each area and work your way up your body to your head. Then repeat working your way down your body to your feet. Finish by pressing down hard into the ground.
Focus your mind on what’s around you, say out loud three objects you see. Observe their colour, structure and texture.
Exercise, this helps to flood your body with endorphins.
Limit caffeine as it is a stimulant for the nervous system.
Say positive affirmations to yourself, “I’m okay, I can get through this”, trust in your inner resilience and resourcefulness.
Practise yoga, meditation and or mindfulness, either go to classes, or they are easily accessible on the internet and there are also apps for your smartphone.
Distract yourself by watching comedy shows on TV.
If you use medication to help manage your anxiety, make sure you see your GP or health care professional regularly to monitor the dosage so it remains effective. Our bodies and hormone levels constantly change.
All self-care strategies need regular practice and repetition or they will be ineffective.
Like all chronic conditions, anxiety cannot be wished away, however, you can learn to manage your anxiety and over time learn to decrease the symptoms. If you need any support or help then please reach out and contact me.
Be well Pip