How to reduce anxiety
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
Anxiety can be debilitating and anyone of us can find ourselves experiencing this in our lifetime. Reported cases have increased since the COVID pandemic. In a recent ONS study 17% of us reported experiencing anxiety compared to 10% pre-lockdown.
There are a number of steps that you can take which will help to ease your anxiety and prevent it from escalating.
Learning to become mindful of our anxious thoughts can help us to stop them in their tracks before they spiral out of control. This can be a game changer when it comes to anxiety and, once you are familiar with the technique it can help with some of the other tips in this article. There is scientific research behind this and clinical trials have shown it to be effective for both depression and anxiety. For many people it is as effective as anti-depressants. If you are new to mindfulness check out the useful resources at the end of this article.
Try to accept anxiety rather than fight it
If I tell you not to think about a purple elephant, what is the first thing you think of? I'm guessing a purple elephant.... The same goes for anxiety. If you try to fight it and not think about it then chances are it will just get stronger in order to gain your attention. This can then lead to more anxiety about not being able to stop the anxiety! Before you know it you are spiralling into 'what ifs' and sending yourself negative messages about your inability to cope. Does this sound familiar?
Next time anxiety strikes, try to just notice it (this is where mindfulness comes in) and let the feeling come and go. You can even speak gently to it either in your mind or out loud. You could say something like "Ah, there you are anxiety, thank you for letting me know that you are still around - I'll check in with you later". Try to be kind and accepting of your anxiety, as if it were a vulnerable small child rather than a great scary giant.
Keep an eye on your diet
A dip in blood sugar levels can cause symptoms that mimic anxiety so if you are already feeling anxious then there is no doubt missing meals or eating the wrong foods will exacerbate things. Poor diet can also affect our body's ability to cope with stress and can affect our sleep. Try to limit sugar, caffeine and alcohol and incorporate more foods rich in vitamin B and omega 3 which can both help with mood. Above all, aim to eat regularly and stay hydrated. For more detailed information check out this link on diet and anxiety.
Connect with others
There is no doubt this has been difficult during the pandemic and maybe our lack of connectedness with others accounts for the rise in anxiety. Being with people that we care about calms our nervous system and can help us feel a sense of ease. Anxiety can often give us the message that we need to be alone but if you can connect to someone in a small way even just a text message or telephone call then this is often helpful. If you can confide in someone close to you that you are experiencing anxiety then this is even better. You may even find that this person also struggles with anxiety.
Try positive journalling
Postive journalling can be very helpful for anxiety and depression. It can help you to track your progress and notice improvements to your wellbeing.
Reframe anxious thoughts
Write down your anxious thought and then try to look at it in a more realistic way. If you struggle with this when starting out you could enlist a friend to help you. Here is an example:
Anxious thought: I am going to mess up this job interview. I am going to make a fool of myself and all the people there will think I am an idiot.
More realistic thought: I may feel nervous but that is ok. The people doing the interviews might be nervous too. If I get flustered they will realise I am just nervous. It doesn't change the fact that I am very well qualified for the job and have loads of experience.
After the event it can be really helpful to write down what did happen and to compare that with your thought prior to the event. This can help you to realise that things rarely turn out as you might fear. If you practice this regularly it can really help to lessen anticipatory anxiety.
One more point to note here is that some anxiety is good. It channels our adrenalin to where it is most needed to help us acheive our goals - this adrenalin can help us to take action with something like applying for a job in the first place.
Use relaxation techniques
Yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation are helpful but also breathing techniques. Aim to breathe from your abdomen rather than your chest. Chest breathing is very common when we are anxious and this can make anxiety worse. Aim for deep belly breathing and for a longer exhale than your inhale. It can take some practice and can initially feel a little weird but it will calm your nervous system and shift you into a relaxed state rather than a fight or flight state. This link has more information on breathing exercises for anxiety.
Assess your lifestyle
If you have been firing on all cylinders for months/years then chances are your body and mind need a break. Perhaps your anxiety is telling you that you need to slow down, reduce some of your commitments and practice self care. Maybe it is telling you that your relationship is no longer working for you or that you need a change of career. Don't be so busy 'doing' that you miss what you are feeling and needing. Talking to a therapist or someone close to you can really help you gain a better understanding of what you want from life and then you can start to make some changes.
I hope that these tips are helpful. As someone who is prone to anxiety at times I do understand how difficult and distressing it can be. Please leave a comment below if you have more suggestions that could help others.
USEFUL RESOURCES FOR ANXIETY
Finding Peace in a Frantic World - Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This book explains the science behind mindfullness and comes with a CD of guided meditations.
The Mindful Movement on You Tube have a meditation for every situation. I am pretty sure that they are all ad free which is bonus!
Yoga for anxiety with Adriene - a lovely calming, 20 minute practice.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Releasing tension from your body will let your nervous system know that it can relax. It takes some practice but is well worth doing on a regular basis. An added bonus is that it can prevent tension build up in the body which in itself can cause anxiety.
Anxiety UK is a great resource for all things anxiety related in the UK
Headspace is a great app for mindfulness. You do need to pay for it you can usually get a free trial.