Anxiety is a typical response to stress. It is a feeling of apprehension, doubt, worry or concern about what is to come. Thoughts triggered by anxiety fall along the lines of “what if”? “What would happen when”? “Is it possible that…”? Anxiety is therefore ‘future focused’. It triggers thoughts and feelings about the expected performance or outcome of FUTURE EVENTS. Anxiety is also ‘past biased’. It involves travelling BACK IN TIME in order to evaluate past performances, experiences, perceptions, outcomes, etc, and use those evaluations to ‘predict’ what is likely to occur moving forward. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to anxiety management.
1. Stay in the present moment;
This is one of the biggest things you could ever do to manage your anxiety. Remember how I said that anxiety is both future focused and past biased? The more you are in the future or the past, the less you are in the present right. Grounding exercises are great for redirecting your attention and focus to the present moment. Grounding exercises can involve anything from smelling a flower, having a shower, walking on grass barefoot or eating a particular type of food. The goal is to focus on the smell, really feel the water and the grass on your body/feet or really pay attention to the taste and texture of the food you are eating.
2. Learn to identify your thoughts and their connection to your feelings and behaviours;
If you are not aware of the nature of your minute-to-minute thoughts, anxiety will always get the best of you. If you are aware of your thoughts, but you are unaware of how they may influence your feelings and behaviours, anxiety will again get the best of you. Journaling, diary writing and self-reflection are all great ways to start becoming more mindful of what your anxiety triggers within you and whilst also helping you to see patterns between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
3. Use mental boundaries;
Personal boundaries are permissible ways that others can act towards us and we set them in order to protect our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. Mental boundaries are boundaries we set against ourselves and our thoughts in order to protect our mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health. Mental boundaries can be mantas that we say to ourselves like “NO. I will not think/worry about this right now. I am in the middle of a meeting. My anxiety can wait” or “My anxiety is triggered. I need to cut this off right now before it gets the best of me”.
4. Seek professional support if necessary;
When it comes to anxiety, you are not alone. Over 260 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is so prevalent worldwide mostly because people have not learnt the skills necessary to manage it properly. There is no shame in seeing a mental health professional about your anxiety. If you want to learn how to swim, you go and see a swim instructor. If you want to learn how to drive, you see a driving instructor. If you want to manage your anxiety, you see an anxiety instructor. That is all mental health professionals are really. Instructors. They are there to assist and support you in learning new skills.
5. Don’t isolate and withdraw;
Many people diagnosed with anxiety may also be diagnosed with depression as these two conditions are often co-morbid (occur together). Anxiety takes us away from the present moment and so when we are isolated or withdrawn, it can be harder to transport ourselves back to the present. Whilst it may be hard to stay engaged socially, just being in the mere presence of people (healthy people) can really help you to shift your focus away from anxiety and towards the present moment.
6. Never stop taking prescribed medication without consulting a medical professional first;
Abruptly stopping prescribed anxiety or depression medication without professional advice can be extremely dangerous. Always, always, always speak to your doctor if you ever want to stop, increase or lower any medications you are taking. Also ensure that you are in regular contact with your doctor. The responsibility of a Dr is to regularly monitor your progress. If your doctor refuses to do regular medication reviews, explore your doctor options. It is never good enough to simply prescribe and forget.
7. Don’t become over confident;
It is impossible to completely escape anxiety. Anxiety appears whenever stress appears and we all know that stress is inescapable. It is easy to think that once we have learnt anxiety management skills, then we are set for life and we will never have to worry about anxiety again. Anxiety is very sneaky though and it can appear unexpectedly and occur so quickly that it may take you a while before you even recognise that you are anxious. This is why it is important to be mindful of potential triggers and be mindful not to become too complacent.
8. Don’t over consume caffeine and other stimulants;
Stimulants like coffee, energy drinks, tobacco and illicit and illegal stimulants will all make you anxiety much, much worse. Here is an analogy I have used in the past to explain how anxiety impacts our thoughts. Anxiety is like a little toy race car speeding around a track. The faster the little toy car goes around the track, the harder it is to grab it and take it off the tracks. This is like our thoughts. The faster our thoughts race through our minds, the harder it is to ‘capture’ them and so become aware of them and challenge them. Caffeine and other stimulants will just speed up your thoughts and so make it harder for you to manage and control them properly.