It’s normal and healthy to feel anxious from time to time. The adrenal response triggered under stress can improve your physical performance, sharpen your focus, and can even maximise creativity. All of these responses are your body’s way of helping you to survive dangerous and challenging situations.
This helpful form of stress is generally a reaction to short-term external triggers, such as giving a presentation, driving in bad weather, or playing a sport. On the other hand, when you’re experiencing an unhealthy level of anxiety, you’re often reacting to internal triggers.
In modern times, extreme stress is rarely caused by having to outrun a dangerous animal or other threats to our immediate survival. Instead, the root cause of anxiety is often internal: Fears, “what if” questions, memories of negative events from our past, feelings of self-doubt, and so on. Worries about our past or future may lack a clear endpoint, so it’s easy to dwell on these anxious thoughts indefinitely.
Is it stress or anxiety?
If you’re experiencing an unhealthy level of anxiety, you may notice:
Heightened emotions that last for a long time, even when no threat exists
Emotions that are disproportionate to the current situation; possibly leading to emotional outbursts, interpersonal difficulties, or avoidance
Physical symptoms: shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, feeling tired or suddenly weak
A sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
What can I do to feel calmer?
Managing anxiety requires us to turn our attention away from our worries about the past or future, and bring our awareness back to the safety and calm of our current circumstances. Here are some strategies to help you do this:
1. Slow your breathing.
If your breathing is rapid and shallow, it can create a feedback loop between your body and mind that you are panicking. Do your best to slow your breathing down; completely filling and emptying your lungs. If it works better for you, you can try a more structured breathing exercise. For instance: inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and pause for four counts.
2. Use progressive muscle relaxation.
Find a comfortable position (preferably lying down) and notice where you are holding onto any tension in your body.
Starting from the top of your head, tense up your facial muscles as you inhale, then relax them completely as you exhale.
Repeat the pattern of tensing on the inhale and relaxing on the exhale as you move down through different areas of your body.
Relax larger body parts in sections. For your arms, tense and release your shoulders, followed by your upper arms, lower arms, wrists, and fingertips.
Muscle tension is one way your body responds to stress and anxiety. By relaxing your muscles, you’re signalling to your brain that you are calm. As with slowing down your breathing, this exercise helps to reset the feedback loop between your body and mind.
3. Challenge negative self-talk.
Is your anxiety based on a likely outcome, or is it a worst-case scenario? Avoid exaggerating with terms like “always” or “never". Try swapping them out for the phrase, “up until now". For example, instead of thinking “I always embarrass myself in interviews", replace that thought with, “Up until now, my interviews have not gone as well as I would have liked, but today’s interview could be better".
4. Use a grounding technique.
Grounding techniques help to bring your mind back to the here and now. A grounding technique can be anything from holding an ice cube to solving a math problem – anything that shifts your senses and your focus back to the present moment. A commonly used method is to stop and observe your environment. As you do so, name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
5. Ask for help.
If your anxiety is causing you distress, talk to someone you trust about your experience. This can be a trusted friend, or a professional like one of the coaches here on Hello Coach. If your anxiety does not seem to be improving, or you are concerned for your safety or the safety of those around you, get in touch with a medical professional.
Today’s action steps
When you notice signs of anxiety:
1. Take a moment to turn inward. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m feeling a rational reaction to what is going on around me right now?” Notice if your thoughts are based in the present moment, or if they’re focused on some past or future moment.
2. Stop and take five slow, deep breaths, then tune in to your surroundings by using grounding techniques.
3. Observe any thoughts that increase your anxiety, and see if you can challenge or reframe those thoughts.
Take a moment to think about which calming technique you might try if you find yourself feeling anxious. If you continue to feel overwhelmed or feel like you could use some extra support, reach out to someone you trust.
Our world-class coaches on Hello Coach can help you identify the things that are causing you anxiety, and give you tangible ways to eliminate anxiety at the source.
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