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15 Things to Help Cope with Anxiety

Anxiety is an increasing issue for many people, especially in these troubling times. Below is a list of 15 things anyone can start doing today to help overcome anxiety. I’ve also added two don’ts at the bottom of the list along with links to some great resources.

  • Breathe – Anxiety causes us to breathe shallow and quick breaths. Controlled, deep breathing can help restore a sense of calm. Some sources recommend the following: Inhale deeply through the nose, hold the breath for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through the lips while making a slight sound (hiss, sigh etc). Aim for 12 breaths. Alternatively, some people find benefit from Buteyko breathing (slow, gentle diaphragm breathing through the nose) as described here

  • Set aside a time for dealing with fears Throughout your day, when anxiety begins to bubble up, take note of the thought, feeling or issue that is bringing up the anxiety. Have a time set aside (20 to 30 mins) in the evening for dealing with the things that cropped up during the day. This problem solving time “worry time” is where you write out the problems/worries in detail. Next, try and write out any possible solutions (Don’t worry about silly or “out there” ideas – this is brainstorming, any idea is noted). Think what advice you would give a friend facing this problem. Ask a friend or trusted person what they would do. Choose the best option and try to write steps to achieve it. At this point think on what can go wrong and write steps to cope with those hiccups. Discuss the plan with a friend or trusted person.

  • Meditation and Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you allow thoughts to come and go without judgement, analysis or attachment. The aim is to be present in the here and now, not the past or future. Practicing for 15 to 20 minutes per day can help ease anxiety. To start, bring your attention to your breathing, focus on the slow, steady breaths. Thoughts will come and go – don’t judge or analyse them. If you get really stuck on a thought jot down a note of it, and deal with it in problem solving time (see #1). Return your focus to your breathing. Don’t be disheartened the first few times if you seem to be constantly distracted, it becomes easier over time, just keep returning your focus to your breathing and allow any other thoughts to come up and roll by.

  • Self Assessment Some people find it useful to complete an anxiety self assessment such as this one Answering the questions online gives a score of between 20 and 80, with scores of 20 to 44 being normal levels of anxiety.

  • Self Help There are a huge amount of resources available on line to help deal with anxiety. By keeping diaries, writing down feelings and particular worries, working through self help booklets it is possible to overcome much of the anxiety in our lives. Take a look at the list of resources at the bottom of this post.

  • Practice relaxation techniques, ideally daily, before the anxiety feelings rise in a quiet comfortable spot where you won’t be disturbed. Simple relaxation techniques include a long bath, hot shower, massage pads and foot spas. One technique called deep muscle relaxation is to tense each group of muscles (start with the forearm by making a fist) for a few seconds and release the tension. Doing this will help release tension being unconsciously held in the muscles. A full explanation of this technique is on page 16 of the self help guide in the first link below.

  • Sleep well –Anxiety and poor sleep can be a vicious circle. Without a good nights rest, we are at a more agitated state during the day. Try relaxation techniques, or wind down before bed. Use a blue light filter on your phones/screens and switch off an hour before bed time.

  • Eat Well –What we use to fuel our bodies is crucial to our health and wellbeing. A varied diet of nutritious foods is ideal.

  • Exercise Well – Exercise reduces stress hormones and boosts hormones that make us feel relaxed and happy. Anxiety floods the body with adrenaline – aerobic exercise is one of the quickest ways to burn off the adrenaline. Cycling, running, jogging or walking at a comfortable level can all help.

  • Foster Relationships – Positive Social interaction releases helpful hormones and reduces stress. Isolation increases anxiety so reach out to friends, family or a trusted person to chat with.

  • Slow Down – Don’t take on too much. Having too much on your plate will increase feelings of overwhelm, time pressure and stress. Allow breaks of 5 to 10 minutes for stillness throughout the day.

  • Self Kindness and Self Care – Most especially, don’t talk down to yourself, don’t self criticise

  • Open Up and Talk – if not to a friend then through a professional or through a support group. Sharing how you are feeling can help ease anxiety as a problem shared is a problem halved.

  • Take Time for yourself. Engage in an activity or hobby that you enjoy (reading, tv, fishing, jigsaws)

  • Stop (take a moment when you begin to feel anxious) and Think “Are my thoughts helpful, rational or constructive. What’s a more helpful or alternative way to look at this?” – this is some of the basis or CBD (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) – a way of challenging unhelpful thoughts.

Watch out for:

  • Avoid excesses and harmful substances, especially alcohol – drinking can temporarily relieve anxiety but it depletes serotonin (happy hormone) over time; nicotine as it is full of harmful and unhelpful chemicals; caffeine as it is a stimulant and makes it more difficult to relax and stay calm. Be wary of eating as a coping mechanism – when we do we tend towards eating sugar rich or fatty foods. They provide a short release, but it quickly diminishes and our bodies are left with the task of trying to burn off the excesses.

  • Don’t fall into Anxiety Avoidance – Changing behaviour to avoid situations actually keeps the anxiety going. – try to work through the thing that you fear. Right now, concern about others not wearing masks in public – don’t let this deter you from going outside – wear your mask correctly, observe proper hand hygiene and social distancing makes the risks minimal.

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