Anxiety is a word bogged down by confusion. Some use it interchangeably with the word ‘stress,’ saying things like, “This whole situation is giving me anxiety,” or “This drama is going to give me a panic attack.” Most of us have experienced stress in one way or another. We’re stressed out by deadlines or problematic situations with family or relationships, or we’re late for something and find ourselves worked up with irritation. But stress, while there are many triggers and many ways your body can unhealthily be affected by it, isn’t the same thing as anxiety.
Anxiety is more than simply feeling stressed or worried, which typically passes once the trigger goes away. With anxiety, these feelings aren’t fleeting. They are consistent, all-consuming, and at times, totally affect the overall quality of one’s everyday life. There are a variety of types of anxiety, all with a range of symptoms. Some common symptoms include hot and cold flushes, a racing heart, tightening of the chest, snowballing worries, obsessive thinking, compulsive behavior, irritability, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and specific or social phobias like fear of going to an event, receiving an injection, or flying on an airplane.
There are so many avenues for treating anxiety. How do you heal? One of the concerns I came across as someone medically diagnosed with anxiety was that there are a lot of answers that mask the condition as opposed to help people understand it. Knowing you have anxiety is not enough. Like being given the tools to build a house yet not knowing how to build it, anxiety cannot be treated unless it is understood.
Being able to identify anxiety at its onset will allow you to face it head on. And using tools and techniques to cope with and alleviate it will ensure you continue to understand it and stop it in its tracks. Here are five ways to alleviate your anxiety.
1. Take deep breaths
When a rush of anxiety comes over you, you might notice that your breathing patterns begin to alter, as you switch from your passive state involving deep breaths from the lower lungs to rapid short breaths in the upper lungs. “The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe,” explains Tom Corboy, founder of the OCD Center of Los Angeles. By changing the way in which you breathe, you can stimulate the body’s parasympathetic response, ensuring you calm down quicker.
2. Accept that you’re anxious
Being able to say, “This is just anxiety,” will take the power out of the helplessness that you are feeling. If you allow fear to fuel your feelings, the situation will only escalate. The opposite of fear is faith, so remind yourself that anxiety is just an emotional reaction, and that this feeling is not your permanent reality.
3. Be mindful of your thoughts
A racing mind is a side effect of anxiety. The presence of ‘what ifs’ like “What if I lose control?” “What if I can’t breathe?” or “What if I have an attack and pass out?” only push you towards panic mode. “When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur,” Corboy says. When you set your brain off like this, reel yourself back in by reminding yourself that this is not your truest self.
4. Use calming visualizations
Channel a positive, peaceful place that makes you feel safe and secure. This will counteract the heightened tension and judgments that have taken hold of you momentarily. By redirecting your thoughts to a relaxed scenery, you are reminding yourself that you are capable of calmness.
5. Focus on what feels good
Ask yourself what you would be doing had anxiety not become present. This will redirect your attention and motivate you to follow through with what feels good in your life. If you were about to go to an event, think of how much fun you would be having. Obsessing about how you feel instead of how you could feel is just setting you back. Simply put, just get out of your head.