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How to manage anxiety

Written by Chloe Hall.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a preoccupying mood or feeling which impacts on everyday lives. It arises when we feel fear, panic, or stress about immediate or potential threats.

At moments like these, our instinctive ‘fight or flight’ defence systems are engaged, and this is when we are likely to experience the characteristic effects of stress: a racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, sweaty hands, and butterflies-in-the-stomach.

We are accustomed to nervousness when we feel unusually exposed, for instance before a job interview, or sitting an exam. However, when real or imagined threats evolve into persistent worries about everyday issues, they can become consuming and demoralising, having a negative impact on our day-to-day mental health.

Chronic anxiety

When short lived nervousness becomes chronic anxiety, it starts to dominate our thoughts and negatively affect our mood.

This can spoil our leisure time, stopping us from relaxing or sleeping well, and distracting us from tackling our routines at home and at work in a positive way.

Long term anxiety has a detrimental impact on self-confidence, which in turn can dominate our thoughts and lead to feelings of isolation. This is especially so when others around us seem better able to cope with life’s stresses. But this isn’t the case. For 2020-21, NHS data shows that 2,803,244 people were in contact with secondary mental health service providers, many of which were experiencing anxiety. So it’s clear that anxiety is a common issue, what steps can we take to counter it?

Ways to manage anxiety

Rationalise anxieties

First, it may help to try to rationalise nagging concerns. People can obsessively worry about scenarios which do not always materialise in ways that they assume.

The NHS advises a triple plan: we should attempt to recognise a negative train of thought, challenge it, and replace it with more positive responses. For example, if you anticipate that colleagues are likely to dismiss you as awkward or even foolish when you make that important presentation next week, try countering the anxiety by reassuring yourself that you are preparing thoroughly, that you have useful ideas to communicate, and that you can rise to the challenge of speaking to an audience.

Keep anxieties in proportion

It is sensible to plan ahead and anticipate problems, but it is important to try to keep a sense of proportion about feelings. Sometimes by overthinking an issue, we can make it seem insurmountable.

It’s always worth trying to keep things in perspective: even if the worst should happen, you can still survive and continue doing your best.

Utilise exercises to destress

However, simple destressing activities may help. For instance, many people recommend deep breathing exercises, which can bring almost immediate benefits such as the reduction of stress, lower blood pressure, and the release of those feel-good endorphins.

Talk to someone

Often problems feel worse when we deal with them alone. Speaking to a friend or relative may not change anything, but it can improve our feelings greatly.

Distract yourself

Sometimes, the best thing you can do when feeling anxious is to try and distract yourself. It can be as simple as running an errand, doing some laundry, or going for a walk may help to prevent our feelings becoming overwhelming.

However, while these distractions can offer some relief and a chance for a fresher perspective, they do not necessarily lead to longer term changes.

The importance of downtime

While keeping busy might prove a welcome short-term distraction, it can also be helpful to routinely set aside time in the day for relaxation.

This down time should be just for you, and could be focused on reading, or meditation, or any strategy which help you to clear your mind.

This will aid in countering those stress responses which can build up to chronic anxiety.

How to recognise anxiety triggers

It may be possible to work out what causes personal triggers of anxiety for you. Perhaps there is a recognisable pattern, or a particular situation, which causes fear, panic, or stress.

If so, reflect on and tackle these circumstances, by avoiding them, by reducing the chances of encountering them, or by changing routine.

Our reactions to anxiety

Our reactions to triggers can be powerful, and challenging to manage on our own.

Ultimately, dealing with anxiety is about feeling in control of our feelings. We may be able to find ways to turn the tables on anxiety and attempt to channel our preoccupation into more positive energy, focusing on a task or hobby. However you deal with or manage your anxiety, if you feel in control, you’re doing well.

It can difficult reaching that point, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re struggling with anxiety, remember that we are here to help, even if it’s just to listen.

Further support with anxiety

If someone you know is showing symptoms of anxiety, it can help to direct them to seek advice from a GP. However, if talking to a professional seems too challenging, there are alternative places to begin. Our blog offers advice on a variety of mental health issues. Sometimes just getting some extra information can prove to be a positive first step.

Our mental health services directory, Wellbeing West London, can help you find mental health services near you.

Our Safe Space service may also be able to help. We provide an alternative to A&E for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and can give advice, support, or just listen.

The NHS offers advice on anxiety here.

Read more practical advice to improve your mental health, or learn what a mental health crisis is.

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Posted on: 22nd February 2023

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