Anxiety taking over your life? Here's how to stay calm

Anxiety taking over your life? Here's how to stay calm

It’s that in-between time of year: between halfway and the end of it, when work deadlines and ‘final pushes’ are all you’re hearing about, and you just want it to be the Christmas holidays already. You may be feeling stressed, squeezed, and overwhelmed, and that's when anxiety and burnout can multiply, causing you to feel depressed and stressed. In this blog, we will unpack how to manage stress and anxiety for your peace of mind and your piece of mindfulness, for a happier, more balanced you. 

What is anxiety?

Anxiety involves feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension that have cognitive, emotional, and physical effects. It can lead to negative thoughts and cause people to feel out of control. It can also lead to somatic sensations, such as sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath.

These symptoms are common for people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. However, they can also affect anyone to varying degrees at different times. Fortunately, there are effective strategies that you can use to help cope with anxiety in both the short and long term.

Ways to manage anxiety

Stop and Breathe

When anxiety flares, take a time-out and think about what it is that is making you feel nervous. Anxiety is typically experienced as worrying about a future or past event.

For example, you may be worried that something bad is going to happen in the future. Perhaps you still feel upset over an event that has already occurred. Regardless of what you are worried about, a big part of the problem is that you are not being mindful of the present moment.

The next time your anxiety starts to take you out of the present, regain control by sitting down and taking a few deep breaths. Taking a moment to stop and breathe can help restore a sense of personal balance and bring you back to the present moment. However, if you have the time, try taking this activity a little further and experiment with a breathing exercise and mantra.

Practice this simple breathing technique:

Get into a comfortable seated position.

Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose. Follow this inhalation with a deep exhalation, out through the nose.

Continue to breathe deeply and fully, in and out of your nose. Allow your breath to be a guide to the present.

Use the mantra, “Be present” as you breathe. With each breath in, think to yourself “be” and with each breath out, focus on the word “present.”

Breathing exercises are powerful relaxation techniques that can help ease your body and mind of anxiety while turning your attention towards the present.

Figure Out What's Upsetting You

In order to get to the root of your anxiety, you need to figure out what’s bothering you. You can do this by putting some time aside to explore your thoughts and feelings.

Writing in a journal can be a great way to get in touch with your sources of anxiety. If anxious feelings seem to be keeping you up at night, try keeping a journal or notepad next to your bed. Write down all of the things that are bothering you. Talking with a friend can be another way to discover and understand your anxious feelings.

Focus on The Things You Can Change

Replace your fears by changing your attitude about them. For example, stop fearing to lose your job and instead focus on how grateful you are to have a job. Come to work determined to do your best. Instead of fearing for your loved one's safety, spend time with them, or express your appreciation of them. With a little practice, you can learn to pick up a more positive outlook.

Sometimes, anxiety may actually be caused by a real circumstance in your life. Perhaps you’re in a situation where it is realistic to be worried about losing your job due to high company layoffs or talks of downsizing. In this situation, taking action may be the answer to reducing your anxiety. For example, you may need to update your resume and start job searching. This can give you a fresh sense of ease and confidence once you become proactive to change the situation you are in.


Distract Yourself

At times, it may be most helpful to simply redirect yourself to focus on something other than your anxiety.  You could: 

Do some chores or a project around the house

Engage in a creative activity, such as drawing, painting, or writing

Go for a ​walk or engage in some other form of physical exercise

Listen to music

Pray or meditate

Read a good book or watch a funny movie

Strengthen Your Body and Brain

Lifestyle changes can also be helpful for preventing anxiety and helping you cope with anxiety flares. What you eat, how much you sleep, and your physical activity levels can all have an influence on how you experience anxiety.

Research has found that mood and stress levels can be affected by what you eat. People who consume diets rich in fruits and vegetables, for example, tend to experience lower stress levels.

Research has also found that regular physical activity can be useful for both alleviating and preventing anxiety. One study found that physical exercise had a protective effect against anxiety disorders and significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety.

Sleep can also have a powerful effect on your mental well-being and anxiety levels. Research has found that problems with sleep are one risk factor for developing anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder.

What is the difference between anxiety and panic attacks?

You might hear the terms "anxiety attack" and "panic attack" used interchangeably. This is understandable, given that they share some common symptoms. However, behavioural health professionals use these terms for specific symptoms and disorders, and they have different features.

A panic attack is characterized by an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by other physical and mental symptoms. Panic attacks are episodic and typically peak within minutes or hours.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is part of the emotional and protective responses hardwired into the human body. It becomes a problem when it's longstanding, excessive, and disruptive to daily life—in which case, it's termed an anxiety disorder. Although intense anxiety symptoms can feel like an attack, "anxiety attack" is not a recognized diagnosis.

Calming strategies for panic attacks

There’s no magic silver bullet for panic attacks, but you can make them shorter and less severe. The next time you’re dealing with a panic attack, follow these steps:

Calming step 1: Have a script ready

A panic attack can fill your head with racing, negative thoughts, which can keep the panic going and make you feel worse. But you can wield a powerful weapon against them: A script of positive thoughts. Your script should answer the negative thoughts. So if you feel like you’re going to pass out, tell yourself you won’t. If you feel like you’re dying, tell yourself you won’t die from a panic attack. The words you hear are powerful, and over time, they become your truth.

Ideally, write your script when you’re feeling calm. Tuck it in your pocket or purse or type it into your smartphone notes so it’s easy to access. 

If you’re in the middle of a panic attack and don’t have your script, you can fight negative thoughts on the fly. Try repeating — in your mind or out loud — phrases like, “I’m strong, and I can handle this,” or “This is only temporary, and it will pass.” 

Your script helps you deal with an attack that arises, but it’s a preventive measure, too. It can calm your fear of having another panic attack because you know you’re in control.

Calming step 2: Focus on breathing

Your breath affects your mental state, so breathing is a crucial part of stopping a panic attack.

Not sure how to slow down your breathing? Follow these steps:

Find a quiet place to sit or lie down, if possible. But even if you can’t, deep breathing can benefit you anywhere.

Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.

Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, and exhale out through your mouth. Breathe at a pace that feels comfortable for you.

Notice your hands. The hand on your belly should move as you inhale and fall back into place as you exhale. The hand on your chest should stay relatively still. 

Repeat for several minutes or until you feel calm.

Calming step 3: Find a distraction

Thinking about your panic attack makes it worse, but a distraction can help you get your mind off it. Your distraction should be something simple that you can do when you feel anxious. 

Try these ideas:

Call a friend who knows how to make you feel better

Listen to music

Pet your dog or cat

Picture yourself in a peaceful place

Sing or hum

Take a walk or go for a run

Panic attack prevention: Learn your triggers

Panic attacks can come on suddenly and may seem like they strike out of the blue. But many times, specific triggers lead to the attack. If you can spot that trigger, you might be able to avoid a panic attack next time.

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