Everyone gets anxious – from occasional feelings of fear and worry to more severe anxiety attacks. There can be several reasons why one develops anxiety and they can come from a combination of: 1) genetic composition (anxiety disorders seem to run in families); 2) environment (childhood experiences and traumas such as a dog bite for example or a tragic accident); 3) individual factors such as beliefs and behaviors (about a certain situation such as taking the plane can contribute to a fear of flying for example); and 4) use of caffeine or alcohol. There are also some medical conditions that can cause us to feel anxious such as thyroid problems.
However not all anxiety is bad! For instance it can be quite helpful when we need a “rush” of energy or when we are faced with a dangerous situation, which requires us to take some kind of important action. Here our body’s sympathetic nervous system automatically triggers physiological changes: Our breathing quickens, adrenaline is secreted and our heart begins to race. This is a natural survival mechanism called the fight or flight response and it is intended to help us to escape a life threatening situation.
On the flip side when the threatening situation is imagined (for instance you might think “I’m going to fail this presentation and everyone will start to mock me”) the fight or flight response is activated but unnecessarily in this situation. This is only one example of how anxiety symptoms can hinder our daily functioning, our relationships, our performance at work and our overall health and well-being.
Here are ways you can decrease the frequency and intensity of anxiety in your life.
1. Accept that anxiety is normal. Fighting the anxiety can make it worse. Remind yourself that anxious thoughts and feelings are like any other thoughts and feelings. Not only will this remove any shame or judgment that you might have about your anxiety, it will actually activate the body’s natural relaxation response and you can feel calmer.
2. “Stop-sit-breathe”. Since anxiety is often triggered by unwanted and negative self-talk you can also tell the brain to “STOP” the thoughts. SIT leaning back while loosening your arms and BREATHE. Practice diaphragmatic breathing: start by exhaling deeply then inhaling slowly to a count of 4 pushing your belly out, gently holding your breath for 4 seconds and then exhaling slowly to a count of 5. Do the whole “stop-sit-breathe” exercise for 5 minutes twice a day. Mindfulness is another way to slow down negative self-talk. You can find an example on our website.
3. Positive coping statements— Practice more positive and realistic thoughts such as “Although unpleasant, my anxious feeling will pass and I have managed it before”.
4. Challenge your anxious thoughts—think, “How likely is this to happen?”, “Is this really true or does it just feel that way?” and “If it does happen, what can I do and how?”
5. Get moving! Exercising regularly and in a non-obsessive way reduces anxiety and releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with the brain providing you with positive emotions.
Ultimately the worst thing you can do when you are anxious is to passively sit around focusing on being anxious! By regularly practicing the above techniques you will eventually increase your ability to live the life you want in spite of your anxiety.
If you need additional support contact us at (514) 223 5327. Our clinicians are trained to help you with your anxiety.
Written by: Rita Odabachian, M.A., M.Ed.