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How to Reduce Anxiety

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Reducing Anxiety and Stress Blog by Jannice Jones

The Oxford English Dictionary defines anxiety as ‘a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome’. I like the definition of anxiety as ‘overestimating a potential threat and underestimating your resources’. Anxiety can be mild or severe. Most people experience fleeting anxiety at some point in their lives, such as when taking a driving test or having to give a speech. However, some people experience it constantly and find it very hard to reduce or manage it effectively and as a result anxiety negatively impacts their daily life. Anxiety has an emotional aspect, a physiological aspect and a psychological aspect, which can translate into an unhelpful behaviour.

Emotionally you may feel fear, stress, or excessive worry about a real or imagined threat. This may turn into avoidant behaviour, such as going to bed or it may turn into obsessive negative thoughts.

Physiologically your heart may start to pound, you may have difficulty taking full breaths, and you might start to sweat or feel nauseous. You may experience muscle tension, perspiration, shaking, tremors, tightness and pain in the chest, feel dizzy or faint, have a rapid heartbeat or tingling or numb feeling in the hands and feet.

Psychologically you may feel fearful about things that may happen or go wrong even if there is no reason for it. You may dread going out or doing something outside of your comfort zone, experience insomnia, or are easily startled. Your ability to concentrate may be severely impaired or you may feel unable to go through or complete everyday tasks. It can also mean an inability to enjoy anything or feel happy.

Does anxiety differ from fear? Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.

What is stress? Stress is the physical or mental response to an external cause, such as having a lot of homework or having an illness. A stressor may be a one-time or short-term occurrence, or it can happen repeatedly over a long time.

What is anxiety? Anxiety is your body's reaction to stress and can occur even if there is no current threat. If that anxiety doesn’t go away and begins to interfere with your life, it could affect your health. You could experience problems with sleeping, or with your immune, digestive, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems. You may experience having headaches, stomach aches, a lack of energy, being irritable, decreased concentration or ability to focus, body aches and pains, weight gain or weight loss.

Coping With Stress and Anxiety Learning what causes or triggers your stress and what coping techniques work for you can help reduce your anxiety and improve your daily life. It may take time and trial and error to

discover what works best for you. Here are some activities you can try when you start to feel overwhelmed:

Breathwork If you are feeling anxious or feel that your stress levels are high try one of the following breathing patterns to take your body out of the stress response – the sympathetic nervous system, fight, flight, freeze into the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest:

  • 5-5-5 – resonant breathing. Breathe in through the nose for 5 seconds and out through the nose or mouth for 5 seconds, no hold at the top or bottom, for 5 minutes

  • 4-7-8 – parasympathetic activation. Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and out through the nose or mouth for 8 seconds. Do at least 5 times.

  • 4-4-4-4 – box breathing. Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out through the nose or mouth for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Do for at least one minute.

Keep a journal Write about how you are feeling on a daily basis, or when your anxiety is triggered. See if you notice a pattern emerging. Is it certain people, places or situations that increase your feelings of anxiety? Note also what reduces your level of anxiety.

Practice Mindfulness Download an app which teaches mindfulness, or go onto Youtube and watch something there.. Our amygdala is hardwired to look for danger (real or imagined) and when our amygdala fires our pre-frontal cortex shuts down, which turns off our ‘thinking brain’. Our first point of call needs to be to return the body to a state of rest and digest, rather than fight or flight, by using the breathing techniques above. Once calm has returned you can then ask yourself what thought processes caused the response that took you into fight or flight. How did that thought make you feel and behave? Just asking these questions may help to slow the brain and give you options for moving forwards.

Cognitive Distortions Notice if your mind tends to do any of the following:

  • Personalising – your mind makes everything about you.

  • Black and White Thinking - all or nothing thinking.

  • Mind Reading – doing other people’s thinking for them.

  • Emotional Reasoning – using your emotions to interpret reality i.e. when you are feeling anxious you are saying to yourself that this is a dangerous situation. However, there is always the possibility that it my not be a dangerous situation, it may just be your emotional reasoning around the situation. Always ask yourself which glasses you have on - the reasonable glasses or the fear glasses.

If any of the above describe how you habitually think then start to be a detective of your own mind. Ask yourself what would be a more helpful thought. See the stress or anxiety as a normal response to change. Our brain wants to keep us safe, but we want to grow, so turn down the volume on the brain, and learn to change your state through any of the suggestions above.

Get into the habit of questioning your thoughts and choose for yourself how you want to respond to life. Start to become comfortable at feeling uncomfortable. Easy does it but do it.

Improve Physical Health Exercise regularly, eat healthy, take regular meals, drink 2 litres of water a day and reduce caffeine intake. Stick to a sleep routine, and make sure you are getting enough sleep, 6-8 hours is ideal.

Other Ways to reduce stress and anxiety Meditation, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong, being in nature, spending time with friends, cuddling a pet, engaging in creative activities, having fun, such as dancing or going to watch live music.

Spending time with uplifting people and people that make you laugh or feel good about yourself are also great for reducing anxiety.

Getting organised, which is a way of taking control of what you can control, can help.

Less than helpful ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Some unhealthy coping strategies that people try are things like using drugs, overeating, smoking, taking it out on others, watching TV mindlessly, playing video games all day, or oversleeping. All of these things might make you feel better in the short term, but in the long run they end up just making you feel a lot worse.

Whilst stress is a normal part of life and situation based fleeting anxiety is okay, when they continue for too long or become the norm then outside help may be really useful. The first point of call could be your GP. Speaking to a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist, or other trained therapist such as a cognitive behavioural (CBT) specialist may also be beneficial. Left untreated anxiety can become increasingly debilitating. You can also work with a breath coach to help you to change your breathing patterns to reduce your physiological response to anxiety and stress. When we change our breathing we can change our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Jannice Jones

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