Updated: Sep 14, 2022
People often talk about anxiety as if it’s something separate to them yet also an unchangeable part of them. Their anxiety gets blamed for the way they respond to and feel about situations. It’s blamed for why they can’t do some things. Yet, despite being almost as if it’s a separate entity, they feel as if there is nothing they can do about it. They are stuck with it for life and the only option is to manage it as best they can.
I know the power of anxiety. For years, I managed it with rage, denying it’s existence which led to physical ticks, and adopting behaviours that numbed it. None of this was conducive to a sense of wellbeing or good relationships.
For others anxiety can feel unmanageable. It can feel all-consuming, overwhelming. It can be impossible to make decisions. People can feel frozen, unable to function. They may desperately seek reassurance all the time, hating themselves as they do so. It’s when its taking over their lives like this that they come to be me asking for strategies to control and manage it.
The first thing is to accept it’s completely normal to feel worried or a little anxious. We all do sometimes; waiting up for someone we love to come home; waiting to start an exam; being interviewed for a new job. Once the moment passes, the feeling leaves.
It’s a problem if it rarely or never leaves. As soon as one worry is resolved, we’re onto the next with no let up in between. Anxiety is then a difficult and unwelcome companion. Feeling anxious is a stress response. Our heart races, breathing gets shallower and quicker. We might feel shaky. We might sweat. We might even lose all sense of time or black out. It’s often accompanied by a pretty grim voice in our head telling us there’s something wrong with us, we’re a rubbish friend, parent or partner. It might be saying something catastrophic is about to happen. It’s debilitating, exhausting and it grows. More and more situations and experiences become triggers, squeezing the joy out of life.
If your anxiety is in control, taking over your day-to-day life, you can take action.
In the moment
When the anxiety rises, it can feel all-consuming, but you can reduce it.
Breathe. Breathe in for a count of five and out for five and repeat for a few minutes.
Ground yourself. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Notice where your body touches the chair, where your feet touch the ground. Imagine yourself firmly rooted and know that in this moment you are safe.
Slow down. Notice what’s around you now, the sounds, the colours, the textures, the scents. Focus on them.
Take your mind to a peaceful place, preferably somewhere real where you have felt safe. Be as vivid as possible. Bring every tiny detail to life in your mind.
Focus on the physical sensations of the anxiety. With compassion, curiosity and no judgement, stay with the sensations, breathing deeply until you feel them calm down.
Reduce the impact
There are steps you can take to reduce the impact of anxiety in your day-to-day life.
Exercise. Physical exercise reliably diminishes anxiety.
Get enough sleep. Start by making sure you have a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
Eat a good diet. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just balanced.
Try an activity that keeps you fully in the moment. It could be knitting, cooking, playing music, reading a book.
Note down your worries, identifying what causes you to feel anxious. Equipped with this information you might be able to find solutions and transform the anxious thoughts into positive actions.
Let go of anxiety
Addressing the anxiety in the moment and taking steps to reduce its impact on your day-to-day
to life can make a huge difference. You can go a step further. Deal with the underlying issues and it can leave you for good. People experiencing severe anxiety often don’t believe me, but it’s true.
Anxious feelings that are not transient, that have got a grip on you, are likely to be a cover for something deeper. As we work together, at a pace that suits the individual, we uncover, connect with and accept the underlying emotions. These might be, for example, sadness, anger, disgust or fear. It’s not easy. It takes courage and time, but as we do so, the anxiety diminishes and eventually goes. It’s an incredibly rewarding and life changing process.