Anxiety is a normal human experience. We’ve evolved to feel anxious as a mode of protection and survival. This is called the fight-or-flight response.
Feeling anxious in stressful times is natural. There isn’t something wrong with you. It proves you’re human!
Anxiety becomes a problem however when it is prolonged and excessive.
This can cause distress and potentially leads to further mental health problems. When anxiety starts to dictate our thinking, making it difficult to function, then something is wrong.
There are many anxiety disorders. Social anxiety disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are two common ones.
Anxiety can still be a problem however, even if it hasn’t been diagnosed as a specific anxiety disorder.
You may become anxious when there is no real danger, even though it feels like there is.
You may find that you become excessively anxious in situations where most people would feel a bit nervous.
Anxiety can show up as physical sensations, as frequent or constant worry, or as changes
Feeling tired, on edge, restless or irritable
Feeling a sense of dread
Insomnia or disturbed sleep
Feeling sick, dizzy or short of breath
Shaking or trembling
Headaches or stomach aches
A noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
A dry mouth
Avoiding situations or putting off doing things you are worried about
Repeatedly checking things or seeking assurance from others
People experience anxiety in different situations and for different reasons.
There are many different ‘triggers’ for anxiety. These can be internal (within ourselves) such as thoughts about being judged by others, or worries about money or health.
They can be external (from our environment) such as work stress or overcrowded places. It is common to be unaware of our triggers. Identifying them helps to find better ways to manage anxiety.
List your triggers, on a piece of paper or on your phone.
For the body to run efficiently, there needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide.
This balance is maintained through how fast and how deeply we breathe. When anxious, this balance is disrupted. We take in more oxygen than the body needs – overbreathing or hyperventilating.
The body responds by producing symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness and breathlessness. Heart rate can increase so as to pump more blood around. These are uncomfortable sensations but not dangerous.
Controlled breathing can take back control of your body. Slowing down your breathing can reduce physical symptoms, helping to remove you from the moment, calm down and think more clearly.
It can reduce general levels of anxiety. With practice, it can also help to reduce anxiety when in an anxiety-provoking situation.
As long as you are comfortable, controlled breathing can be done sitting, standing or laying down.
Take your hands and place them on your stomach - at the level of your belly button.
Breathe in through your nose slowly for 3 counts. As you breathe in, feel your diaphragm expanding and your fingers moving apart as the breath comes into your stomach.
Breathe out through your mouth slowly for 3 counts.
Get into a regular rhythm of slowly saying in your head: ‘in, two, three…out, two, three…’
Try to slow your breathing rate down to 10 – 12 breaths per minute.
Try to practise controlled breathing at least once or twice a day.
STOPP is a technique to help relieve anxiety, bringing perspective to anxiety-provoking situations. It creates space to think about a situation and our reaction to it.
Breathing helps calm the body down. The questions provide a rational and reasoned approach to whatever the situation or problem may be.
It takes practice and it’s best to use it for minor anxiety-provoking situations first, before trying when you are very anxious. STOPP is an acronym (expand below to view).
S - Stop
T - Take A Breath
O - Observe
What am I thinking?
What am I reacting to?
What am I feeling in my body?
P - Pull Back
Put in some perspective.
See the bigger picture.
Is this fact or opinion?
How would someone else see this?
P - Practise What Works
What’s the best thing to do for me, for others, for this situation?
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Most anxiety is driven by how we think about things; whether ourselves or the world around us. Worry, overthinking, catastrophising and rumination are all part of being human. It’s not our fault. It’s just what our minds do.
Finding ways to reduce the impact of such thoughts is key in managing anxiety. A helpful first step is to view such thinking as unhelpful; not as problem solving or managing difficult things better.
The ‘Just Worrying’ technique involves labelling worry (giving it a name and describing it) as ‘just worrying’, and then bringing attention back to your breath, or simply changing the focus of your attention.
Each time you catch yourself worrying just label it again and refocus. It doesn’t matter if you do it 10 times in one minute or if you realise you’ve been worrying for 2 hours and then use the technique. What’s important is using the technique as soon as you notice worry.
This technique involves no criticism or anger at yourself, just non-judgemental labelling of the worry. Do not change the label from ‘just worrying’ to ‘don’t worry’!
The more you use this technique the more effective it can become.