Everyone you know has had some experience of worry or anxiety in their life, but it is important to know that it can feel different, every time. In this article I will describe common anxiety symptoms followed by strategies for how to counteract the discomfort and relieve the symptoms.
Anxiety can present itself in many ways, here are some common symptoms:
To feel uncomfortable around people you don't know
To constantly worry about what others say and think about you
To feel nervous about an exam or presentation
To feel a constant fear of things you know intellectually are unreasonable, but you can't shake it off
Losing friends and family members by isolating yourself because it is so stressful to be around others
To over-analyze everything you do, until life feels unattainable, and you have a feeling of inadequacy
What does your anxiety look like?
Anxiety is not a disease
There is nothing wrong with you, it’s not a sign that you are defective, It’s a normal human reaction that everyone experiences. If you are experiencing this too much of the time and it feels overwhelming, it’s a sign that there is something that needs to be looked at and addressed.
Anxiety is not permanent
It's an emotion like all other emotions, it can come and go in waves, but we need to learn how to manage it, but its not permanent and so we can watch it come and go
Anxiety is not in control of you
It might feel like it's completely taking over you, especially when we are caught up in the midst of the overwhelming feeling, but there are techniques that you can learn so that you can manage the anxiety and get in control of your emotions
What can Anxiety physically feel like?
A POUNDING HEART: Palpitations, this is when your heart start rushing, this can feel really scary and a lot of people often think they’re having a heart attack, and think that they are going to die, which triggers even more anxiety. You might feel a lump or tightening feeling in the throat, feeling like it's hard to swallow or a very dry mouth. A common symptom is changes in your breathing, a feeling of shortness of breath. You can feel like “I’m going to choke” or “I can’t breathe”, this feeling will probably make you hyperventilate and make you even more lightheaded. Other common symptoms are shaking or trembling, sweating or feeling nauseus, like you are going to be sick and want to throw up.
All these feelings can be really anxiety provoking because you don’t want to cause a scene outside and so it is important to have a few tools to take the edge of and focus, because even though it might not feel that way, the anxiety will pass.
Some easy techniques to manage symptoms!
"BREATHING IN A SQUARE"
Look at a window or a frame (door, window, tv or painting) and follow your gaze along the corners
Breathe in for 1-2-3-4 seconds whilst you hold in and out going towards each corner around the shape. This helps regulate your breathing, and will help distract you from thinking of the anxious thought. Keep going round the square until you feel your breathing regulate and calm down.
Nobody needs to know, or can see that you are doing it but it helps your anxiety from escalating to panic.
DROPPING AN ANCHOR
Plant your feet on the ground and notice the pressure of your feet on the ground, can you feel the ground below your feet?
Notice the muscle tension in your legs, as you push towards the ground, do you feel your muscles tense up?
Emphasize and focus your attention towards your entire body, do you notice any sensations in your body, are you experiencing any tenseness or pain anywhere? Can you feel your lungs expand as you breathe?
Look around you and pay attention to what you can see, or hear around you. Do you notice anything you haven't paid attention to before?
As little as 5 minutes a day can help get you grounded and build up resistance towards anxiety and can help you train your thoughts to serve you well in unpredictable situations. By practicing mindfulness regularly you will learn to observe your thoughts as stories, as constructs of your imagination and that will make them feel less serious and threatening. A major part of what make our anxious thoughts so hard to manage is that we completely loose ourselves in them, and start focusing on the future, which in itself is an anxious thought because we don’t know what is to come. So when your thoughts start pulling you away, practice mindful presence by giving yourself 5 minutes to observe that you are having thoughts, and watch them go by as you rest in the present moment, creating a distance from that very thought.
Identify your thoughts
Mindfulness works wonders for quieting the mind, and once you are in a calmer states, give yourself time to identify your thoughts, what’s your mind telling you? What’s troubling you? Is there something bad that’s going to happen? Write the thoughts down, read it out, and observe the thought objectively. Chances are you will think very differently when you see the words in fron of you. Was it really as bad as you thought (or felt?). Try doing this every time as a practice to learn what triggers your mind and make a plan to address the topics that are coming up. In time, the anxiety will wear off and you can identify the thought connected to the symptoms as it arises.
Last but definately not least...
STOP anxiety from turning into a PANIC ATTACK
Be mindful of your situation, acknowledge your feelings. When you’re anxious your mind will look around to see how you are under threat and not ok. Being mindful of that means you notice where your attention has gone and guide yourself back to the here and now, and ground yourself in your breathing.
Don’t try to control the symptoms. Symptoms are uncomfortable and so we try to push them away or block them out, but we can’t do that and so we feel more out of control. Symptoms are not dangerous they’re completely safe, so let them pass through you.
Don’t misinterpret what's normal symptoms of anxiety as catastrophe, it is not catastrophic (i know it might feel that way!). You might have palpitations, but if you start thinking about having a heart attack or "I’m going to die", then that is going to build up into a panic attack, so focus on one thing and one thing only - your breathing, and it will center and calm you.