Feeling anxious and suffering from an anxiety disorder are two different things. While the former is a normal part of life, the latter is essentially an excessive fear where a person goes to great lengths to try to avoid the source of anxiety.
There are those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which involves excessive levels of anxiousness about money, health, academics, relationships, and other real-life concerns. Others go through social anxiety and struggle with the feeling of embarrassment or being judged. The rest experience fear of just about anything.
Whether you’re someone who’s suffering from a clinical disorder or simply want to manage sudden bouts of stress and anxiety, you should know that you can get over it. In fact, there are several small yet effective ways to manage and overcome anxiety.
1. Breathe Deeply
While this may seem like a cliché, breathing exercises are clinically-proven to calm the nerves. This is because deep diaphragmatic breathing initiates the relaxation response from the parasympathetic nervous system. This replaces the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response which causes emotional distress.
2. Start Walking
There are instances that the anxiety you feel is triggered by adrenaline buildup. Because of this, it is recommended that you become more physically active to burn off the excess adrenaline that’s coursing through your veins.
If you’re not much of a fitness buff, simple activities like walking should already suffice in achieving this goal. Plus, strolling outside can help you get some fresh air, which also has a calming effect for people who are chronically stressed.
3. Communicate With People Who Understand
Sometimes, the feeling of anxiety can be eased by simply talking about it. While consulting health professionals is recommended, you can also try talking to friends or relatives who understand what you’re going through.
This can be people who suffer from the same condition, or those whom you feel will be able to give you sound advice or just listen to what you have to say. The bottom line is that you should try to vent rather than keep your feelings bottled in.
4. Classify Your Thoughts
Everyone has their own inner critic. While some people can easily overcome this critical inner voice, people who suffer from an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to filter these thoughts which are often unhelpful.
If you feel like your inner critic is too much for you to handle, you can try to manage it by classifying thoughts that are inaccurate, unrealistic, or unreasonable up to a certain extent. While labeling your thoughts, you are paying attention to how they affect you rather than the content. This will keep you from believing negative thoughts which can be destructive if left unchecked.
If you notice that judgment in your thoughts, for example, simply call it out as “judging.” If you feel a worrying vibe or criticizing tone, label it as such. This will help you become more aware of your thoughts and, ultimately, feel calmer and relaxed.
5. Relish the Present
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift which is why it’s called the ‘present.’” Cliché as this quote may be, it can serve as an excellent mantra to remind you of one step you need to take to be calmer: relish the present.
This means that you don’t have to linger too much on what has already happened and think about the “what ifs.” Instead, focus on what is currently happening and enjoy even the little things and small luxuries of life.
6. Steer Clear of Caffeine
While drinking coffee may initially make your thoughts seem clearer, caffeine is actually an anxiety-inducing beverage that you should try to avoid. This is because this substance is a stimulant and can get a person amped up, which, in turn, can lead you to experience feelings of anxiety.
7. Ditch Alcohol and Other Mind-Altering Substances
Aside from caffeinated drinks, you should also avoid alcohol and other psychotropic or mind-altering substances such as prohibited drugs. While they may promise a temporary escape from reality (including your anxiety), they also negatively affect your well-being in the long run after the initial effects start to wear off.
There are a lot of anxiety patients who experience their first panic attack when they began taking mind-altering substances. While these attacks are already devastating when experienced while sober, the effects become worse if you’re under the influence.
Meanwhile, alcohol is known to work its magic in calming the nerves, but that’s only for a short time. The truth is that alcohol changes serotonin levels in the body, which is why you feel a lot worse once the effect of alcohol wears off.
8. Keep a Diary
Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you sort them out. This is particularly helpful if you cannot talk about the source of your anxiety out loud. Studies reveal that keeping a diary or journal can help a person deal with negative feelings and reduce stress. One research has even proven that people who write about their feelings feel much less anxious compared to those who don’t through an anxiety test.
Take Your Time
When you are having bouts with anxiety, you might feel helpless and think that you cannot do anything about the situation. This just isn’t true. Aside from talking to a therapist, there are many ways you can overcome your fear. Just take one baby step at a time, and you’ll be all right.
Justine Corry is a clinical psychologist and enjoys helping people get to the heart of what is not working in their lives. Along with Dr. Gemma Gladstone, she is co-director of the Good Mood Clinic in Sydney and has 10 years of experience within private practice.