Do you find yourself often overthinking situations or conversations to the point where you feel panicky or sick? Perhaps you are prone to long periods of uneasiness or fidgeting and don’t know why? Anxiety is a very common disorder that can affect us at different stages in our lives. It can feel difficult to explain or even understand, as it can affect us all in different ways and have varying symptoms, from physical symptoms such as restlessness, shaking, a tight feeling in your chest or a racing heartbeat, to psychological effects such as agitation, irritability or the feeling of detachment from everyday activities.
There are some things you can do to help manage these symptoms and control your trigger points. We’ve put together some useful information and techniques for helping you better understand and manage anxiety.
Understanding the cause of anxiety
Did you know that the reason we feel anxiety is down to something often called our ‘lizard brain’? It’s that primitive part of our brain that reacts instinctively to help protect us – the survival instinct that evolved in the early days of human life. This can help us to understand many of our reactions in everyday situations, particularly what can feel like unprovoked anxiety – it’s our brain putting us into fight or flight mode when it detects signs of ‘danger’. Of course, the situations our lizard brain thinks are dangerous may not really be life-threatening, but it will be acting based on a previous situation in which you felt frightened or uneasy, or as a result of pressures you may be experiencing through school, at home or amongst your friendship group.
As we highlighted in our recent article on mental health around the back to school period, trying to recognise the situations that trigger anxiety, and rationalise why it is happening, can be really helpful when learning to manage the feelings and also keep us in the present moment, rather than worrying about what is to come.
Recognise and challenge unhelpful thoughts
Those unhelpful thoughts that sometimes pop into our heads when we are anxious or stressed (“I’m going to fail this exam” or “Everyone is going to think I’m weird”) lead us to make assumptions without any real evidence to back them up, meaning we’re causing ourselves worry over nothing and feeding the problem.
It can be difficult to learn how to recognise such thoughts, especially if you’re so used to them. NHS Mood Café suggest learning to label these thoughts as they occur to help you challenge them – for example, if you are convinced you will fail an exam, but have never failed one before, challenge yourself: “What are the chances that I will fail this, really?”. The Mood Café provide some resources to help you recognise and challenge your thoughts, so give it a go and see if they can help you change your mindset into a more positive one.
Restore relaxation through breathing techniques
Mind UK has some great tips for relaxation to help combat feelings of anxiety or stress, including focusing on your breathing in order to bring calm. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we don’t realise that we are tensing our shoulders and placing physical stress on our bodies, which can cause us to feel achy and tense – heightening the feeling of anxiety. By keeping your shoulders down and relaxed and focusing on long, deep breaths, you’ll soon notice the tension around your shoulders, neck and head will disappear and help you to think more clearly.
The NHS also recommend keeping your feet hip-width apart if you are sitting down as, just like with your shoulders, it helps your body to open up and release tension.
Creative outlets or mind training
Many people find that having a creative outlet can help to channel negative or unsettling feelings and relieve the symptoms. This could be anything, from writing or keeping a journal to crafts or even cooking, so long as it is something you enjoy doing and can easily while away some time whilst doing so.
A hugely popular activity for maintaining your wellbeing is with colouring books, whilst others prefer to distract the mind through logic puzzles or mind training such as sudoku or even puzzle apps. If you are struggling to rationalise your thoughts in the midst of an anxiety episode, you might find that these are helpful in allowing you to focus your thoughts.
Sharing your experience with others
Finally, we’ve said it before and we will say it again: try to share your feelings with someone you trust. Anxiety can make us feel lonely, but the power of sharing, talking and listening can be incredibly relieving, and you might be surprised to know that others have been through similar experiences themselves.
If you don’t know who you can talk to, why not have a look at some of the shared experiences on Mind? These are real stories, written by people like you, that have been through similar experiences and want to share theirs to help others. It’s important to know that you are not alone and that there is always help available.
If you feel you are struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety, visit Young Minds and have a look at some of their resources around what you can do to manage your anxiety or how you can ask for help.