Worry when you have to ... relax when you don't! Here are ideas to help you manage your worries and fears.
Fears and worries are normal.They serve a purpose in life, and become a problem only when they interfere with daily functioning.
Rule out physical causes
If you experience frequent symptoms such as headaches, stomach upsets, rapid breathing and fast heart rate, have your GP rule out medical causes that can mimic anxiety. Be aware of your daily caffeine consumption. Too much can cause symptoms of anxiety or make existing symptoms worse. Check out your thoughts.
When you feel afraid or anxious, ask yourself what you are afraid of. To what extent does your perception match reality? How realistic is it that the worst possible outcome will actually happen? Search for evidence and see if it supports your fears.
When you feel overwhelmed by fear and worry, ‘Thought Stopping’ is a way to deal with it. Substitute the fearful thought with the word ‘STOP’; visualise a traffic sign if you need to. Many people find prayer useful to help them cope with their worries. If prayer is a part of your tradition, it can serve as yet another way to still the mind when worries are rampant. Slow your bodily response to worries.
Pay attention to breathing when you feel anxious or fearful. Take deep, slow breaths to achieve a sense of calm. Exercise to ease tension. If you find yourself overwhelmed by worries or fears, engaging in physical activity can help diffuse tension and also serve as a momentary distraction. This is especially useful if you find that thought stopping and slow breathing are not enough to help you feel calmer.
Physical activity need not be strenuous for it to have positive effects on your state of mind. Activity can include anything from walking to vacuuming the house, knitting, or dancing. If you are restricted in physical activities, modify movement to suit your abilities. With a bit of thought and creativity, it is possible to come up with activities that fit your situation.
Develop a response plan
If anxious feelings persist, try to ‘map’ their occurrence. Are you more prone to negative feelings and reactions in particular situations? The more you know about your patterns of anxiety or worry, the better you can overcome them. Once you have identified a pattern, you can come up with a coping plan, which might include calming self-talk, challenging negative assumptions and taking deep breaths. These can be helpful alone, or used together.
The next time you have these feelings, remember your plan and follow it. The regular practice of meditation can be useful in this respect, as it helps to slow down rapid breathing and fast heart beats. It also helps to clear the mind if you feel worried. Relax and take some time out to listen to Anna Filliol's helpful Five Minute Meditations. Tap into your reserves of strength in times of real need. Remember that often the worst things we expect to happen, never do. If something terrible does happen, it is quite likely that you will cope and go on.
Find a balance between reality and worries
Life is to a certain extent uncertain, and we have to accept that. The key to managing anxiety is to find the balance between reality, fears and worries. Stay focused on this balance and do not give in to negative thoughts. Seek help. If the problem persists and is severe enough to disrupt normal functioning, consult a mental health professional or physician. For help online, visit www.depression.org.nz or www.mentalhealth.org.nz