I’m not normally an anxious person, but over the past few weeks I have struggled with anxiety. It has been a good thing because it has helped me understand more about this emotion and how to cope with it, and I hope I’ll be able to support my anxious clients and friends better.
For me the first step was to acknowledge just how anxious I was. The tight chest, the twisted stomach, the waking up at night was my body in full primal fear mode. Just naming my anxiety, and accepting that it was a normal response to some very unfortunate circumstances, made me feel better.
Step no 2 was to breathe properly every time I was aware of the anxiety. I always use a mental picture of what I call my breathing box- a square one. I breathe in for a count of 5 as I go up one side, hold for 5 as I go across the top, breathe out for 5 as I go down the other side, and hold for 5 as I travel across the bottom. Slowing your breathing rate tricks your amygdala brain into believing there is nothing to worry about and the effect on your physical body is almost instant.
Step 3 was to go for a walk when I found the same anxious thoughts going round and round in my head. Exercise helps.
Step 4: I shared my anxiety with my family. I know I’m very fortunate to have a caring family and not everyone does, but any social support can help. As the old saying goes “A problem shared is a problem halved”. Talking a problem through also helps you deal with it cognitively and realise that the world hasn’t ended and all of this will not look so bad 3 months down the line.
Step 5: I meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes. I try to do this every day because it works.
Step 6: Every night I think of the things that have gone well and that I should be grateful for that day. I set a reminder on my phone which pings me at 8pm so that I don’t forget. Academic research in Positive Psychology has shown that this habit actively promotes well being and I know it makes me more positive generally.
And the result? My problems aren’t solved yet but my I’ve overcome my anxiety. I hope some of these steps will work for you too.