Strategies for anxiety
Updated: Jun 17
So what exactly is anxiety? If you look around, you’ll find a whole range of answers to this question. The common theme seems to be that ‘anxiety’ describes a feeling of worry or fear, which can lead to overwhelming feelings, panic or distress.
Feeling anxious is pretty common. We live complicated lives. We are surrounded by stressful situations, difficult decisions and unpredictable relationships. While a certain amount of anxiety is part and parcel of everyday life, it can become problematic. Anxiety can get in the way. It can stop us from trying new things, from doing activities that we enjoy, from connecting with others.
Step 1 - Understanding your anxiety
We all know what it means when someone says they have anxiety. Or do we?
The truth is that every individual experience of anxiety is unique, including the way that we describe it. Some talk about feeling anxious, others talk about being anxious. Some talk about having anxiety, while others talk about being an anxious person.
This might seem like a minor point, but it’s worth considering the language that you use. It reveals something about your relationship with your anxiety. Does it feel like a fundamental part of your identity or personality? Or just a passing feeling that comes and goes? Is it linked with other emotions, like anger, frustration, sadness or envy?
How does your anxiety impact on your behaviour? Maybe you isolate yourself and avoid social situations. Maybe you put on a mask and cover it up. Perhaps you have certain behaviours or rituals that are more noticeable when you feel anxious. And where do you feel your anxiety? Perhaps it’s in your neck and shoulders. Or maybe in your gut. Or around your jaw. Or somewhere else entirely.
Why does this matter? If we can tune into our individual experience of anxiety, then we are able to notice our triggers. When do we feel most anxious? Is it at a particular time of day, or before or after specific events or interactions? Does it ebb and flow, or is it constant?
Step 2 – Everyday coping strategies for anxiety
We’re all different, and our experience of anxiety reflects this. It follows that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to coping with anxiety. Here are a range of options that you can test out to see if they help you to cope with everyday feelings of anxiety. Some of them might immediately catch your attention. Others might sound silly to you. I’d encourage you to approach this with curiosity and an open-mind, and see what works for you:
Five finger breathing. Hold your hands out in front of you. Use your index finger on one hand to slowly trace up and down each finger on the other hand. Breathe in as you trace upwards and breathe out as you trace downwards (look up ‘finger breathing’ online for more info).
Breathing through a straw. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through an imaginary straw (look up ‘straw breathing’ online for more info). This can be really helpful if you’re feeling panicky.
Grounding. Sit down, and physically push both feet into the ground so that you feel rooted. If you’re feeling panicky you can move so that you are sitting on the floor.
Visualisation. Build a mental image of somewhere calm that you can ‘visit’ when you’re feeling anxious. Include the sights, sounds, smells and sensations. Or you might find another mechanism within your imagination. I like to picture screwing up a piece of paper and throwing it into an imaginary bin.
Sharing your feelings. Identify who you can speak to if you’re feeling anxious and want to share your feelings. This might be a friend or relative. Or it could be a helpline service. Samaritans and SHOUT are staffed 24/7 by trained listening volunteers.
Tapping. Based on acupressure techniques, it can be particularly helpful if you recognise that you hold your anxiety in specific areas of your body. For example, if you clench your jaw then you might find that tapping around the jawline, or even massaging the area with your hand, can offer some relief (look up ‘tapping for anxiety’ online for more info).
Time limits. Acknowledge that you’re feeling anxious. Then set yourself a timeframe. When your time is up, give yourself a job to do or make sure that you have a change of scene.
Challenge the reality of your fears. This can be helpful if you’re worried, or even catastrophising, about something specific. Lay out exactly what you’re worried about. It can be helpful to do this with another person, or perhaps on paper in a journal. Really think about the real likelihood of the situation, and also whether it’s something that you can control. Focus on the elements that are within your control, and hold back from catastrophising about things that haven’t happened yet, or that are out of your control.
Switching off. Limiting screen-time can help to reduce anxiety. Computers and mobile phones play an extremely helpful role in our lives. But stepping away from the relentless pings of messages and the endless scroll of social media can help to calm our worries.
Step 3 – Examining the roots of your anxiety
We’ve looked at how you can build a picture of your anxiety, and some basic ideas for coping strategies.
In counselling, we have the opportunity to look deeper and consider the root cause of anxiety. I’d love to distill this into some top tips for an article, but the truth is that it takes time and sensitivity to explore this in a useful and supportive way.
If you’re thinking that you’d like to look into this more with a counsellor, here are some questions to start you thinking:
What purpose does your anxiety serve? This might sound like a strange question. But anxiety is often our mind’s way of protecting us from some kind of perceived threat. What could these threats be?
- Physical – for example anxiety around illness or injury to ourselves or others
- Emotional – for example anxiety about feeling sadness, grief, anger or jealousy.
- Social – for example anxiety about fitting in, being liked, being successful.
When we understand why we feel anxious, it becomes easier for us to notice it and to challenge it. To explore the individual feelings that lie beneath the label of anxiety.
Can you identify how or when it began? Can you remember a specific event or relationship that triggered feelings of anxiety? For some people this might be a personal event that threatened your sense of safety or security. For others it might be a general sense of unease that’s always been there. And for others it’s a response to a collective experience, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Does it feel like it originated with you? Sometimes other people introduce or reinforce ideas that lead to our anxiety. When you look back, do you notice things that you heard or absorbed from other people that have fuelled it? When you feel anxious, do you notice judgements or ideas that come into your head. Sometimes we take on other people’s thoughts and judgements until they become our own.
Does it feel ‘current’? When your anxiety strikes, does it feel like it’s being triggered by what’s actually happening around you right now? Or does it feel like it’s taking you back to past events or feelings?
There might be more questions here than answers! I would encourage you to be curious and open-minded about your anxiety, and to seek professional support if you’d like to explore it further
Step 4 – Keen to explore more?
I love working with people to help them to understand themselves. In counselling we build a relationship where we can look at what might be causing your anxiety and how you can work to overcome it, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.
This article was originally published here by Counselling Directory on 6th April 2023