The first port of call with anxiety, in fact any feeling, is to acknowledge to oneself that its okay to have this emotion as it is easy to have a negative judgement about it and then try to push the anxiety aside through various avoidance strategies. Obviously there are times when any feeling is too much and taking a break through distraction is completely fine. However, persistent avoidance doesn’t solve the problem and probably only makes it worse in the long run. What we resist will persist, so cultivating our capacity to allow anxiety to have its day, so to speak, fosters our ability to tolerate difficult feelings like anxiety and fear. Resisting anxiety only increases its intensity and its hold on us, whereas allowing this feeling diminishes its potency. The technique that is effective in building tolerance for anxiety is mindfulness. The aim of mindfulness is to watch the play of our thoughts and feelings as though you were watching a drama production unfold. Like watching theatre you observe the feeling from a distance by not judging what is occurring, but simply noticing what happens in your experience. This takes practice, but the more we use this capacity to watch feelings and thoughts the less identified we become resulting in an increased ability to tolerate.
Being mindful can help with another strategy that helps with anxiety, that is, looking at the anxiety itself and the associated thoughts, and then apply a reality check to the situation. Anxiety has a tendency to blow some situations out of proportion, so its important to ask yourself is this situation really as bad as what my head and feelings are actually saying. This doesn’t mean the anxiety will disappear, but it may lessen the actual feeling and make it more manageable. It’s important to remember that anxiety is a normal emotion and it’s job is to communicate potential danger. If this danger is exaggerated and inflated out of all proportion to reality then anxiety can increase to the point of panic.
Anxiety generally has obvious physiological components such as raising heart, clammy skin and shortness of breath, especially when panic attacks are prevalent. The tip hear is slow breathing from the abdomen. There is a clear correlation between emotional states and the breath. Longer deeper breathing cultivates relaxation in the nervous system especially when the flight fight response is activated when anxiety is present. It doesn’t matter how intense the anxiety is, whether it’s a mild fear or a full blown panic attack taking slow deep breaths can lower the intensity to more manageable levels. Again this can be done mindfully by placing the hands on the belly and slowly counting to 3 or 4 as you breath in whilst feeling the belly rise. Then repeat, counting to 3 or 4, as the breath is released and the belly flattens. Abdominal breathing is important because many people only breath from the chest which doesn’t completely fill the lungs. When someone is having a panic attack this type of breathing is particular important because it readjusts the oxygen carbon dioxide balance in the blood stream. The rapid breathing of a panic attack hyperventilates the blood stream with too much oxygen producing the physiological responses described above.
This blog has covered a few main strategies to help cope with anxiety, which will be discussed further in the next blog.
If you feel that you would like to contact one us to explore ongoing difficulties with anxiety then please feel free to contact one of our counsellors.
May this day find you well
Counselling and Psychotherapy Team