Better Mental Health: ANXIETY
Have you ever felt queasy, felt your heart-rate escalate, hands sweat or start to shake, when you think of something? This is what anxiety can feel like and is something that most people experience daily. In fact, over 2 million Australians feel anxious on most days every year. Anxiety is a normal and natural emotion. It occurs when you are nervous or uncertain about something (e.g. a presentation/speech) or when you think you might miss a train.
In small doses it’s beneficial – makes you alert and motivated. However, when it becomes ever-present, when you start avoiding anxiety-inducing interactions or situations, and its interfering with your ability to work effectively and communicate with others it can become a problem. Other indicators that anxiety is a problem includes:
- You often feel tired for no good reason
- You sometimes feel so nervous that nothing can calm you down
- You feel hopeless
- You find yourself thinking about work and wanting to call in sick to avoid going to work
- You find yourself tossing and turning in bed and not being able to fall asleep
- You spend more than two consecutive hours thinking about the same thing
- You often find yourself avoiding/cancelling plans with friends to avoid socialising
Anxiety often develops due to a combination of factors, including:
- Stressful life events (job stress, pregnancy, relationship problems, loss of a loved one)
- Family history of mental health concerns
- Physical health problems (diabetes, heart disease, asthma)
- Lifestyle issues like poor sleep, processed diet, little exercise and alcohol/drug misuse
Anxiety is treatable. While it’s impossible to remove anxiety completely (it’s an instinctive emotion, after all) it’s possible to make lifestyle and mental changes to manage anxiety more effectively. Try the tips below.
- Don’t ignore the signs! Learn and acknowledge the early warning signs unique to you e.g. rapid breathing, sweaty palms ad shorter fuse. Consider a kettle. If you leave it on, the water heats up and up, until the boiling point. In contrast, if you switch the kettle off near the start, or even half-way, you’ll prevent it from ever reaching the critical point. Similarly, ignoring anxiety leaves it ‘on,’ allowing it to build, until you feel like you’re going to boil over.
- Pinpoint what exactly you’re anxious about and write it down. Often your mind exacerbates an issue until only worst case scenarios are prominent. E.g. If I try to do the speech, I’ll forget AND say the wrong thing AND I’ll look ridiculous AND be fired! Write down information that indicates your fear may not happen. For instance, what are the odds of getting fired for making mistakes during one talk? What would you tell a friend going through the same thing?
- Use your anxiety as a strength. Once your anxious thoughts are written down, consider each concern and how to counter-act it. This is called “defensive pessimism” and can help you to be proactive about preventing problems. For example: I’ll use palm cards and rehearse my speech.
- In our evolutionary environment, anxiety was activated when entering dangerous situations, making the person more alert via a shot of adrenaline. Today, anxiety can occur in situations not typically considered dangerous, like before making a speech. So when you do notice your anxiety symptoms, try thanking your body for preparing you for action. See if you can label how you feel as “ready” or “excited” rather than “anxious”.
- Manage your body’s response to anxiety by slowing down your breathing rate. This slows your heart rate and tells the brain to stop releasing adrenalin. Try a simple breathing square – breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds and hold for another 4.
- Exercise can reduce the symptoms of anxiety. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, which is a chemical that acts as a natural painkiller. It also helps to metabolise adrenalin and cortisol so those hormones don’t build up (see tip 1). Spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day doing moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk or bike-ride around the block.
Want to learn more?
In person: Your GP and us at the Parramatta Psychology Clinic (to book call 9687 9776 or click here)
Self help book: Change Your Thinking by Sarah Edelman