Updated: May 18, 2020
The following tips will help you to gain relief from the physical symptoms of anxiety and once you are comfortable with that and you begin to regain control over the sensations anxiety gives you, it is then easier to begin to work on uprooting the anxiety where it occurs first - in your mind. There is no single “right” way to think about or deal with anxiety but the tips below are liked a lot by my clients and hopefully they will serve you too.
The suggestions below are by no means the be-all, end-all for dealing with anxiety. If your symptoms are not manageable with these tips, I suggest you work closely with your doctor and/or therapist to create a system that works for you. There are different kinds of anxiety and it manifests in different ways, and I can't cover everything in a single post.
If you are struggling to deal with your anxiety or other mental health symptoms, I strongly recommend you talk to a doctor and/or reach out to a counsellor or psychotherapist.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call 111 (UK) or go the nearest emergency room right away. You can also call Samaritans – 116 123 (open 24 hours a day) or Mind – 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (9am to 6pm on weekdays).
Understand the nature of anxiety
Sometimes we realise anxiety has no real reason for being there and it sort of always was there. This was my experience of generalised anxiety. Whilst sometimes there's obvious build ups or triggers, sometimes there just isn't. Anxiety can be insidious like that, for example, it may only happen when walking on your own and then it starts to spread to when you're in the car on your own too. Understand this is part of the mechanism of anxiety. It makes us uncomfortable so we don't put ourselves in scary situations, even if there's nothing logically there to be afraid of or no real danger. It can only take one moment and then a period of stress for anxiety to become your body's way of trying to keep you safe because of that one time you listened to the anxiety. The problem is it makes you live small and we don't want to live small yet all of a sudden it's hard because now you feel anxious doing something that wasn't always an issue for you. Look back. Was the thing that you now experience anxiety over, always an anxious occurrence for you? Looking back like this can help you find the courage to tell the anxiety you don't need it anymore.
Realise that it may once have served a purpose but that you no longer need the sense of dread or the tummy ache. Thank it for warning you and tell it goodbye if it starts to creep up.
This is a body to mind technique that is extremely powerful for calming you whenever anxiety becomes strong and a firm favourite amongst my clients. Close your eyes and whilst breathing in for a count of 4 you imagine drawing the top side of a square, then hold the breath for a count of 4 and visualise drawing the down side of the square. Next, breathe out for a count of 4 and draw the bottom of your square. Lastly, hold your empty lung space for a count of 4 and draw the other side of the square to meet where you started. Repeat until you feel calm again, and if you like, you can increase the counts up to 10 and go back down to 4. By then you should feel utterly relaxed. This works by forcing the brain to reevaluate where it is sending oxygenated blood, making it go back towards your organs rather than the muscles in your limbs, because when experiencing anxiety, physiologically the body is in flight or fight mode - blood rushes to your limbs which can increase feelings of pain in the chest which is very common to feel. Your mind is also occupied drawing your square or box. Really make it yours; I have several Potterhead clients who imagine it as a sort of patronus box!
Create an anchor
Another body to mind tool that is very easy to use when you're out and about. I explain this and how to create one in another post here.
Bring awareness by journaling
Write a log every day of the exact thoughts you are thinking that link to feelings of anxiety, discomfort or distress. Note what caused the thought/the situation/circumstances and any relevant physical sensations you have had around it too, such as increased heart rate or feeling sweaty. This will help you be clear on how you experience anxiety because it is different for everyone. You are building up a log of patterns which can help you better identify triggers to your feelings and thoughts, which can be situations or people.
As you review what you’ve written, you’ll notice certain things keep coming up. For example, maybe you keep getting stuck in a certain fearful thought or perhaps you are more likely to have a panic attack when you've had poor sleep.
Get to know your body and mind
Sometimes we can hinder our recovery by not looking holistically at our life. For some people, while they're really working on gaining control over the anxiety they experience, they benefit from cutting down on unnecessary caffeine or sugar for example, because they are stimulants. Other people though, won't really find a relationship between their experience with anxiety and foods or substances, such as tobacco.
If you do suspect something you feed your body with is contributing to your sense of wellbeing you can begin a process of slowly decreasing that substance from your day and track how you feel. After a few weeks to a couple of months it will become clear whether you feel any better for not having so much of that substance. Seek support for this if you choose this process as you do not want it to be an unnecessarily stressful experience for you, it should feel slightly liberating!
Getting to know your body can be really helpful in getting to the root of anxiety. Genetic variations, food allergies/intolerance, hormonal (especially for women, see research on PMS & PMDD) and thyroid problems can all trigger anxiety symptoms. Understanding your body’s natural tendencies can lead to freedom. You may want to work with a doctor or dietitian to understand these potential causes.
Reframe anxious thoughts
Cognitive psychology teaches that we have different types of automatic thoughts and when they link to distress they are often negative. These warp our perspective and thus our experience. Some people will find it helpful to understand the types of thoughts and match them to their own experience, such as catastrophising, black and white thinking etc. For others it's not necessary to categorise their warpy thoughts. Either way, the thoughts get the better of you and that is the root of anxiety in your mind which we want to eliminate.
Recognise when one of these warped thoughts comes up, catch it, write it down. Address the thought when you can by reviewing the evidence against the thought. Where is there evidence that sheds any doubt on this thought being true all of the time? If you're struggling, what would you tell a loved one who said that thought to you about themselves? Chances are what you say to them is what you could apply to yourself. Through this process you unseat the thought, even if it's just a little, there's now a part of you that doesn't quite believe that thought.
Next write a counter statement. This is a statement which is humanitarian, grounded in truth and is usually rational and optimistic. It empowers you rather than dis-empowers.
Review this counter-statement as often as you need to and recite it automatically to yourself when it's negative and unhelpful, old version comes up. Your counter-statements may become personal affirmations that you review daily for as long as you need them to. An example could be: "I know that when [insert name] doesn't answer their phone right away, that it is because they are simply busy. They will get back to me when they can, they always do because they care about me. I can be patient and move on with my day whilst I await their response."
Grounding techniques work to re-centre and stabilise you and can be used whenever you feel a little off kilter. Find what works best for you but essentially you become still and imagine roots or a chord of light connecting from your feet right down into the centre of the earth. Take some moments to send whatever feeling it is you don't want into the earth to be neutralised and feel calmness flowing back into you via your feet. Some people may add other chakra work on but it isn't necessarily to achieve the feeling of balance and centredness.
Gradually increase your baseline mood
Look at your life and what brings you happiness. What do you need to do more of that actually brings you joy? How can you fit more of what fill you up in your life? A simple way to increase baseline mood is to add more gratitude into your life. This could be something you list before bed or as part of a morning routine, either way, it's kind of hard to let things get so on top of you when you realised you have a lot of blessings present, even if it is simply safe drinking water and whatever device you're reading this on!
This is also where self-care comes in. You can't pour from an empty cup and when you're burnt out you're no good to yourself or anyone else. Self-care is the daily practice of refilling your psychological energy. You know it's drained when you find yourself with little patience, snapping at people, getting annoyed more easily or through physical symptoms such as headaches. You need to take care of your mind and body - keep hydrated, move your body regularly, eat when you need to, delegate, say no, assert boundaries, and so on.
Meditation works great when your mind is starting to become calmer as you regain control over your thoughts and your mind is more a space where you are your own best friend. Don't over-identify with anxiety. It isn't you, you are not it. It's something you used to experience, but not now. Release it.
Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool that can help a lot when your mind is at the place where it is more accepting of more helpful thoughts or just feels a little lighter. The positive things you'll learn will have space to take root in your mind now. Mindfulness essentially teaches you how to let go of thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them yes but not react to them. It increases the space between having the thought and then your action because of that thought, or action because of a feeling you have noticed. You proceed through you're life with a greater sense of purpose and peace.
With these you are in a state of surrender as you focus only on the words you hear and follow the instructions. You can choose different ones that work for you and save them to a playlist you have whenever you need. They can be a great way to begin your day by empowering you or end your day by releasing any stress or worries so you can sleep.
If you enjoy breath work and meditation then kundalini practises could be helpful to you too.
Is a form of passive meditation that involves repeating a sound or mantra. It brings an incredible sense of connection and peace. If you resonate with mantras, you can choose one that works for you and repeat it until you feel calmer when you sense anxiety beginning, i.e. "I am peace and love."
If you're religious or spiritual and hold certain beliefs about divinity or the cosmos, you may use prayer to empower you over the anxious thoughts. As soon as you notice them, tell them no, recognise their helpfulness and say a prayer for help that feels right to you, and then let go. You may receive guidance or simply feel relief.
Living in accordance with my values has helped lessen anxiety and other clients who begin to turn their focus to this feel the benefits too. They feel much more grounded. Being involved in things bigger than you can help by allowing your own life to be a bit more in perspective - things that give you a sense of community or global connection, and usually something that benefits others. This could be volunteering or activism of some kind. As you embrace your uniqueness more, you are clearer about your desires which gives you a sense of direction. Having a sense of direction is calming in itself.
The most useful book for me was Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. If really helped me find courage in my everyday life.
Overcoming anxiety is to walk a courageous path and I want you to commend yourself for wherever you are on that journey. If you struggle with shame or self-judgement around anxiety, you may find some relief by practising EFT (emotional freedom technique). Youtube is a great resource for tapping videos you can follow along to (Brad Yates is a firm favourite). It's a mind to body technique that gently helps you to think in a different way and release the emotions or thoughts that are holding you back. It's not for everyone but as with all of these pointers, it's worth giving a go as you never know!
Of course, psychotherapy is also very useful for many people struggling with anxiety. Perhaps it feels too entrenched or tangled up with other things going on in your life? Finding a therapist that you connect well with and can trust them to guide you can be a wonderful way of overcoming or working through any problems to get you to a better version of yourself and your life.
Lastly, remember to talk to your doctor if you are struggling with anxiety or anything else related to mental health. Mental health, like physical health, is highly personal.
I hope these tips serve you greatly, but what’s best for you is what works for you.
Authenticity, Wisdom, Love,