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What is anxiety, and how to deal with it

Written by Benjamin Marshall. 

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the world. An estimated 3.7% of the world’s population have some kind of anxiety disorder, roughly 284 million people.

The good news is, anxiety can be dealt with. There are small steps you can take to manage your symptoms, and more long-term strategies that have been proven to help reduce anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. It typically involves being constantly focused on the future and worrying about what could happen before anything has happened. It may instead revolve around the past, ruminating on past actions and how they might have been interpreted.

Anxiety and anxiety disorders

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, but it is important to realise when anxiety turns into a disorder so that you can receive proper treatment. When feelings of anxiety are more than a temporary worry and the feelings do not go away but instead get worse over time, you may want to see a healthcare professional to see if you have a disorder.

Over 8 million people in the UK are experiencing an anxiety disorder.

If you’re dealing with anxiety, you are not alone with this issue, and asking or looking for help is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Less than 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder access treatment, so there is still a perceived stigma around the issue which needs to be changed.

When addressing anxiety, there are both short and long-term solutions which might be helpful. The short-term tips may help anxiety in ways which shouldn’t require drastic changes to a person’s overall lifestyle, whereas the more long-term methods may require more changes, but are designed to help in a deeper, more sustained way, to hopefully generate long-term improvement.

Remember, everyone is different, and things which work for one person may not work for someone else. Nothing on this list is guaranteed, but they could all help in different ways. 

Short term tips for coping with anxiety

Bring your mind to the present

Many issues with anxiety stem from overthinking about future events and not being present in the moment.

When you feel that your mind is overthinking about the future, try and bring yourself back to the present. This way you stop your mind racing ahead, imagining what might happen, and all the ways in which things could go wrong.

One way you can do this is by focusing on individual items for a minute at a time in your room. This distracts the brain and allows you to only be focused on what’s around you in the moment. Consider trying this technique next time you feel overwhelmed to calm yourself down.

Another great way to bring your mind to the present is by focusing on your breathing.

Focus on your breathing

The 555 breathing techniques can be an effective way to reduce feelings of anxiety or worry. You inhale through your nose for 5 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 5 seconds. Then wait for 5 seconds and repeat the exercise again. This exercise triggers your parasympathetic nervous system which helps calm you down and relax.

Sometime even just a simple deep breath can be a way to stop those overwhelming feelings, as it allows you to reset and refocus on the situation with a clearer mind.

Try exercise

Sometimes when our bodies have too much energy, we can find our minds overactive. Exercise gets us out of our head, and into our body, burning off excess energy and calming us down when we’re tired.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a marathon, it can anything that gets your body moving for at least 15 minutes such as walking, cycling, or going to the gym.

Exercising can distract you from anything which you are worrying about, and can boost your mood as it releases endorphins in your brain.

What you do doesn’t need to be complicated or time consuming, just something which you find enjoyable that you can consistently do. This can also be a part of your daily routine which helps focus your mind on the present day.

Long term strategies to cope deal with anxiety

Talk to a healthcare professional

Whilst talking to friends and family can be very helpful in dealing with anxiety, if the issue becomes more difficult to manage you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional.

This can be either through the NHS or other organisations which focus on mental health. By speaking with a professional, you can discuss medication or counselling or other treatments that may help you manage your anxiety.

Build relationships

Loneliness can make anxiety worse. Having no one to talk to leaves us isolated, spending more time with our thoughts, instead of talking to someone about issues we’re having.

If you are having issues with mental health, you might feel your energy is depleted, and the idea of talking to someone exhausting, causing you to isolate yourself further. But talking to a family member or close friend can help, and reminds us that we don’t have to deal with things alone.

Keep and maintain a healthy routine

If you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time, finding a routine that helps alleviate your anxiety can be one of the best strategies in controlling it.  

You don’t need to change your whole life overnight. Start by slowly building yourself up to form good habits rather than having a complete lifestyle change in a week.

A good way to start this is by understanding what triggers your anxiety, and then seeing what you can do to avoid these or reduce the impact they have on you.

You can then move onto changing things such as your diet, exercise, or sleep schedule. It will be easier to address these one at a time as the change won’t be as difficult to adjust to. It can take around 60 days for you to develop a habit, so this process may take a while, but the benefits can be life changing.

Dealing with anxiety isn’t always easy, but there are ways you can manage it.

If your anxiety feels like it’s becoming unmanageable, our Safe Space is a place to go for additional advice, support, or just to talk.

Learn what a mental health crisis is, or read 5 ways you could improve your mental health.

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Posted on: 19th December 2022

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