Coping strategies for anxiety
How do you stop being so anxious?
Anxiety is one of the feelings you can have when experiencing a real or perceived threat. It is a natural survival response to keep you safe. Its purpose is to keep you alive. But what if you feel anxious when your life isn’t in danger? What if you experience excessive anxiety when you meet new people, talk on the phone, have a presentation, take a train, go to a restaurant, or there is a knock at the door?
The 5 F’s
When you sense danger you could react in five ways:
- flight – using anxiety to run from danger
- fight – using anger to physically fight the threat
- freeze – to play ‘dead’ and avoid further potential harm
- flop – submit, to go ‘floppy’ to reduce harm and mentally shut down
- friend – either calling for a friend or trying to befriend the source of danger
Physical response to anxiety
When you feel anxious – tense, stressed, pounding heart, dry mouth, sweating, breathing rapidly, and a sense of panic or doom, your brain produces the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare your body for danger. Your brain automatically shuts down the logical thinking part and redirects to the lower brain stem or ‘animal/reptilian brain’ and limbic system or ’emotional brain’. This is why emotions feel more intense as your brain prioritises power for survival functions. Redirecting extra energy to limbs to move faster or get ready to fight. So what can you do to stop feeling anxious?
9 points that do not help anxiety:
1. Being told to calm down, just stop, or get over it.
Anxiety is not something that can be switched off by being shouted at or willing it away. Move away from those that make it feel worse.
2. Trying to ignore it
You can’t ignore it, anxiety is felt throughout your mind and body. Indeed, accepting this is how you feel is the beginning of how to cope.
3. Avoiding activities or places that bring up anxious feelings
Whilst this is often the strategy most use, it not only limits your life but also does not stop anxiety from happening. It can create more anxiety and worry as you try to avoid situations. Being aware anxiety is a strong feeling that can be reduced and will pass can help.
4. Spending time with negative/stressful people
When your senses are emotionally heightened it is easy to pick up on others’ feelings. Furthermore being with stressed or negative people will feed into how you feel and increase feelings of stress and anxiety. If others don’t bring out the best in you at certain times, put some distance between you.
Not moving when feeling anxious just increases the intensity. Expelling excess energy by jumping up and down, running on the spot, or vigorous dancing helps the body to reduce adrenaline and stop being so anxious.
Your body naturally needs more oxygen as your heart beats faster. Rapid breathing maintains a racing heart. Certainly the best method to stop being so anxious is to take slow deep breaths. This gets the oxygen to your heart and limbs your body needs but also begins to slow your heart rate down.
How to deep breathe
- Sit, stand or lie down but make sure you’re feet are flat on the floor
- Breathe in through your nose
- Breathe deep into your belly without forcing it
- Count steadily to 5 as you breathe in
- Breathe out your mouth counting to 5 again
- Repeat regular rhythmic breaths for 5 minutes
- Visualise breathing in ‘red’ and exhaling out ‘blue’
- Practising regularly
7. Poor sleep & diet
There is a reason why ‘sleeping on it’ can make things feel better. When you are getting good sleep and eating well you naturally feel at your best and able to cope better with anxious, stressful situations as you have more in the tank. Meanwhile lack of sleep affects moods, reduces patience and increases cortisol the stress hormone.
8. Unhealthy coping mechanisms
Drinking, substance misuse, over or under eating, or sleeping too much are all unhealthy coping mechanisms. Basically in some way all of these are trying to dull the feelings and physical sensations of anxiety. But all can lead to greater issues along the way because they are unhealthy. Obviously whilst there is temporary self soothing relief, the feelings will return. Its the same with trying to control everything in an effort to stop anxiety. Its impossible to do, and sets you up to fail, causing more anxiety.
Bringing yourself ‘back into your body ‘ and focussing on your physical self helps.
Feel the ground beneath your feet, or the seat beneath you
Say out loud
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
- Keep repeating as long as you need to
Lastly, when we don’t feel our best it is easy to withdraw and spend time alone. While it may go against how you feel, rather than being on your own, actually spending time with others is key. Connecting with those that make you feel safe changes how you feel. Creating security, comfort and safety you will naturally begin to feel less anxious.
Talking about how you feel in a safe, confidential space also helps with anxiety. By creating a relationship where you feel safe enough to explore your emotions in a contained way, you can begin to regulate your nervous system and understand yourself more.
If anxiety is affecting your life and you want to explore this further, please click on the contact page to arrange a no obligation chat.
About the author: Chris Boobier is the owner of CRB Counselling specialising in anxiety, trauma, Bereavement & loss. Supporting adults and adolescents, she is passionate about helping people be their authentic self through counselling.