7 practical steps you can take to control your anxiety
1. The first step you can take to control your anxiety is to become more self-aware of what is happening in your body
What is the first feeling you notice that tells you that you are becoming anxious? Is it sweaty palms, increased heartbeat, nausea. Notice the first signs that your emotional intensity is rising.
2. Ask yourself 'what thought or worry was I having just before this feeling started?'
Name the thought, it doesn’t matter how irrational or illogical it sounds when you say it out loud or write it down. The aim here is to switch on the thinking brain, to stop the fight or flight survival instinct from kicking in when it isn’t really needed. Putting feelings into words, either written or verbal is proven to reduce levels of anxiety.
3. Identify all the possible outcomes of this one thought
Not just the worst case scenario, but all the positive and neutral possibilities too. Open your mind to alternative perspectives and viewpoints to stop the ‘tunnel vision’ and spiralling of negative thoughts.
Useful fact: The brain is negative biased; this is because the part of the brain responsible for emotion and survival is made up of two thirds of cells dedicated to scanning for threat and danger. So, it makes sense that most people err towards negative outcomes when they are stressed or anxious.
4. Is the worry productive or unproductive?
With unproductive worry it doesn’t matter how much time we spend dwelling, the outcome is out of our control, so no amount of time and energy spent thinking about this 'problem' will help in the long run. Identity any aspects of the worry that you can influence the outcome of and list all the possible solutions. The rest needs to be left. Allow yourself a limited amount of time per day to worry about things you have no control over.
If your worry is productive then make a list of all the possible solutions, even the ones that seem a little bit ‘far out’. Write them down and order them from most likely to least likely. What can you do to start to take control of this problem or worry? Fight fear with action.
5. Sensory Awareness Exercise
This simple 5,4,3,2,1 exercise helps to focus your attention on the senses and bring you back to the ‘here’ and ‘now’. In turn, this helps you to realise the ‘reality’ of the current situation and switches on the thinking brain, which encourages more rational and logical thought processing.
Sensory awareness exercises reduce emotional intensity because they require a high degree of focus on each sense individually. This distracts from what our ‘imagination’ is telling us, and helps us to acknowledge what’s really going on in our immediate environment.
A suggested technique for 5,4,3,2,1
Look for 5 things you can see – the object furthest away from you, the object nearest to you, the object you are most drawn to, the object you can’t quite work out – be creative, don’t go for the obvious, the idea is to get your senses working hard to enable a fully functioning thinking brain.
Find 4 things you can touch – Notice the texture, is it a calming and soothing feel or irritating and uncomfortable. Pets are a great object here – if you have a dog / cat notice how different the ear fur is to the back fur, the tummy hair compared to the leg hair. Plants and other objects of nature are also great examples as they often have lots of different textures.
Listen for 3 sounds – we are hearing ‘noise’ constantly, but unless we are having a conversation, we rarely stop to consider what we can hear, or differentiate between sounds. Notice what you can hear, from the very subtle to the really obvious.
Identify 2 things you can smell – again smell is an intricate sense, but we often don’t take the time to identify the various scents that make up our environment. You might seek out smells you really like, such as a favourite perfume or food.
And finally, reward yourself with something you can taste – whether that be your favourite drink, a boiled sweet you can take your time with or indulging in a sweet or savoury snack of your choice. Eating and drinking is not associated with the survival response. It tells your body that all is well, there is no danger and normal activity can resume.
You can change the order of the above to suit your environment, to make the exercise more challenging or easier. Make a note of this exercise somewhere easily accessible so that you can refer to it as soon as you have those visceral feelings that ‘something is not right’. Catch the sensations before they escalate.
After the exercise, notice how you feel, any reduction to anxious symptoms is positive. Practise the exercise at times when you are not feeling anxious, so that you become familiar with the process, and it is easier to implement when really needed.
6. Discharge the anxiety
Hard exercise completes the fight or flight circuit. When the survival instinct kicks in our body is waiting for us to either fight or run. It produces adrenaline and chemicals in preparation for us to take action. We can trick our body into thinking this process has completed by engaging in a sudden bout of vigorous exercise (physical health and well-being permitting of course).
This can take many forms and can last as little as five minutes. Examples include, but are not limited to completing as many press ups as you can, burpees, high knees, go for a power walk etc any form of exercise that raises the heart rate will be sufficient. A quick spring clean of one room in the house will equally do the trick!!!
Our body thinks we have ‘survived the threat’ and so then it becomes hard to panic.
7. The 5 minute rule
Anxious and depressed people can find it very hard to motivate themselves to do even the simplest of tasks. All their energy is taken up worrying and overthinking. Sometimes the barrier to getting started is based around how much time we think it will take, or the thought of doing ‘that thing’ for the next hour feels impossible or tedious.
Try this simple 5 minute rule to get started and see where it takes you….
Set yourself 5 minutes to do a specific task i.e. clean the living room, go for a walk, start a journal. For five minutes you commit to doing this task to the best of your ability, and at the end of 5 minutes you have permission to stop.
Giving yourself permission to stop takes away the ‘enormity’ of tasks, but 5 minutes of ‘doing’ also means that we have done something rather than nothing.
5 minutes usually passes in the blink of an eye if we are preoccupied, and before you know it you will be immersed in the task at hand and more likely to complete it or give it more commitment than you expected.
Give it a try – all you have to lose is 5 minutes of your time!!!
If you would like further support to manage your anxiety then talking therapy offers a safe, non judgemental space in which you can explore the root causes whilst finding coping strategies that work. Identifying what underpins your anxiety can help you to understand fear responses in seemingly non threatening situations. Learn more about how talking therapy can help you https://calmthechaoscounselling.co.uk/talking-therapy/
Article written by Janine Mccorry
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