5 Tips For Anxiety

Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. Believe it or not it can actually be good news for us sometimes. It can be what gets you up early on your first day in a new job, or what makes you revise for an exam. But when anxiety starts to take over in your everyday life, maybe it’s time to look at how you can reduce it. Read on for my top tips for anxiety.

1. Understand and reframe

A good first step is to understand anxiety itself. It’s part of our body’s survival mechanism. When sabre-toothed tigers were roaming the earth, early humans needed a warning system to get themselves away from danger! And it worked really well (I’m guessing here, I don’t know any early humans to ask). A sudden noise, an unfamiliar smell, or just the darkness outside would alert their brains and kickstart their bodies. Racing heart, adrenalin pumping through their veins. Making them ready for action, or ready to run away – that’s our fight, flight mechanism you’ve probably heard of.

So, if you imagine that part of brain that’s responsible for this is a bit like a smoke alarm. Like a smoke alarm, it activates when it senses danger, and keeps us safe.

But, if anxiety is overwhelming you, you’ve probably got a faulty smoke alarm that goes off every time you make some toast! We all need the smoke alarm, it keeps us from danger. But it can get pretty damn annoying when it goes off every breakfast time.

Reframe – Now that you understand anxiety a little better, you can start to reframe the anxiety. Maybe by saying to yourself something like “I hear the alarm, thank you for warning me, but I am safe right now”. In time, and with practice, you may hopefully see an improvement. Instead of fighting it, you can work with it.

Have a look at this TedX Talk from Kent therapist Tim Box who talks about getting to know his anxiety and how to reframe it.

2. Talk about it

Friends, family, colleagues. Find people who will take time to listen to your worries. By talking about the anxiety you can start to see things from a different perspective.

Think about what your anxiety feels like. Have a look at my post about How Metaphor Can bring Insights in Therapy for some ideas of different ways to look at things.

A counsellor is another good option. They would spend time with you exploring what these anxieties are about, where they come from, and help you find healthy coping strategies. There are many helplines if you need some support, Anxiety UK is a charity dedicated to helping people with anxiety. You can ring their helpline on 03444 775 774 or see their website here.

3. Distraction

Distraction can be an effective way of reducing the anxiety, by making you think about something else.

Find something you can get really engrossed in; a particular style of music , a great film, a hobby, a game of Minecraft. By distracting yourself with something you know you enjoy, you can start to calm your nervous system down.

4. Get thinking

When our thoughts and worries run away with us, that smoke alarm can get hypersensitive and start feeling that there’s danger nearby. In order to quieten down that bit of the brain, a good technique is to do anything that involves calculation. A favourite one of mine is to count backwards from 100 in 3s.

So start the counting, 97…94…91 and keep going until you feel your heart rate come down and your breathing coming back under control.

What this is doing is activating the front, cognitive, part of your brain and helping to quieten the smoke alarm part. Anything that involves maths is usually a good idea to try. It doesn’t matter how good you are at it. In fact, the more you have to work at it, the more likely your brain will engage and distract you from the worries.

5. Mindfulness

Mindfulness can take many forms. In essence it is focusing on the here and now, rather than worrying about the future. Check out my 3 mindful moments for some quick mindfulness tips. But for something a bit more in depth, try this visualisation….

Imagine a gentle stream flowing just in front of you. Really capture it in your mind’s eye, what it looks like, sounds like. Now imagine your thoughts and worries are like leaves floating down the stream. It’s never ending, there will always be thoughts. Just be accepting that the thoughts will come.

Now, watch them go by, noticing each thought, acknowledging its place, and letting it float by.

With anxiety what we tend to do is jump in the stream, pick up a leaf and focus on it intently. Often we give too much focus to one thought. It’s like we pick up that leaf, turning it over in our hand and studying every part of it. But what would it be like to just leave that leaf be? Just to acknowledge it as another thought, no more or less important than the next, and let it float on.

Take note when you’ve gone off track and started to get involved in a thought. When you’ve jumped into that stream and picked up the leaves – just gently put the leaf back in the water and let it go on. Don’t judge yourself too harshly for doing it, just put it back in the water.

Practice this visualisation when you feel your thoughts getting on top of you.

For more meditation and visualisation practices, check out an app like Insight Timer. Try out some of the meditations on there such as these ones from my friend, Amy McMillan

Amy is a qualified counsellor working in Kent and online with adults and adolescents. Amy works with a range of issues and specialises in working with neurodivergent individuals and their families.

For more information contact Amy here.

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