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How to Deal with Anxiety?

Blog
26 May 2024

Anxiety is a mental and physical reaction that our body has to actual or perceived threats and it happens to everyone at some point. In small doses, anxiety is helpful in protecting us from danger, triggering our ‘fight or flight’ response and focusing our attention on how to react to certain problems or situations. Anxiety is one of the world’s most common mental health conditions with research suggesting up to one third of women and one fifth of men experience anxiety at some point in their lives.

Whilst anxiety is portrayed commonly as a negative experience, anxiety can also help motivate us to power through study, exams, assignments and even job interviews. However, when anxiety is too severe or occurs too frequently, it can become debilitating. It can interfere with our day-to-day living and make it hard to cope with the smallest of challenges.

There are a range of factors that contribute to the development of anxiety which include: biological - family history, personality traits and brain chemistry, or there can be life events such as trauma or long-term stress. Moreover, a combination of these factors commonly leads to developing an anxiety disorder. It's important to recognise when you feel anxiety in order to identify what is needed to intervene during those situations. People who experience symptoms of anxiety may display signs that have both a physical and mental reaction.

Physical symptoms include an increased heart rate or tightening in the chest or throat, rapid breathing, upset stomach or nausea, headaches, feeling faint or weak, shaking and sweating. Other symptoms that can be experienced include difficulty in thinking about anything other than what’s worrying you, difficulty in keeping focused and performing everyday tasks, obsessive thinking and over-thinking situations, imagining worse- case scenarios or difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety drives people to avoid things they fear or are scared of doing. When the ‘scary thing’ is avoided, there is a momentary sense of relief. However, the next time a similar threat arises, the scarier it feels. This creates a harmful cycle of avoidance, often worsening the anxiety.

If you experience prolonged anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to find a treatment to help manage your day-to-day life, which might include speaking with your doctor or a mental health professional to develop a treatment plan to help you feel better. These plans may include a variety of psychological therapies, self-help strategies or being prescribed medication.

If you’re not in need of professional support, some short- term strategies to regulate your body and reaction to anxiety may include:

  • Undertaking a calming breathing exercise: try breathing in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds
  • Focus on your present surroundings: use the 5-4- 3-2-1 method. Focusing on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste
  • Take a small break: try to schedule regular breaks throughout your day for five to 10 minutes. Try to make time to do one thing you enjoy each day such as chatting to a friend, reading a book or listening to music or a favourite podcast.

Remember, everyone responds differently to strategies and treatments and sometimes these take time and require much practice, so it’s important to find something that’s going to be the most helpful for you.

In summary, anxiety is normal and everyone experiences it at some time in their life. It can help us out of danger, spur us on in sport or get us through exams. It becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with our day-to-day living.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of anxiety can help to identify what is needed to intervene in those situations when it arises. There are many short-term techniques such as practising breathing, focusing on the present moment and taking small breaks throughout your day to relieve any stress building up.

Keep practising until you find the right strategy that works for you!

MS TRACEY COOMBES

College Counsellor