Here are my 10 simple steps to help manage your anxiety and still live a happy fulfilled life.
We’ve all come across those annoying people who seem to be good at everything they turn their hand to! However the majority of us aren’t like this and the first time we try something new can be difficult. When you’re unsure and not very confident in what you’re doing, you’re kind of learning as you go. For someone with anxiety, the self-doubt in us massively increases, often making the task seem insurmountable as we put far to much emphasis on what could go wrong. Even simple tasks that we’ve previously accomplished stress free, suddenly become very daunting. For those of you who don’t suffer with excess anxiety, I would best describe it as learning to walk again. I’m talking about things like going to the shops, having a meal out, visiting a friend or even talking to the neighbours! Of course all these things become less challenging the more we do them. By repeating an activity regularly enough, difficult soon turns into manageable, manageable turns into easy and before you know it you’re wondering why you were worrying so much in the first place!
At present due to my anxiety, I have to plan a great deal. Some might call it excessive, but I call it necessary and the best way for me to function in life. It helps me, to detail every stage of a journey or task.
- When will be the quietest time to visit somewhere
- Can I Familiarise myself with an environment to limit the amount of surprises I may encounter. Where possible I can I do a recce of the area before hand.
- Knowing where all the nearest exits are in a building. Psychologically this helps me feel less enclosed and limits the chances of me having a panic attack. If the situation arises and my stress levels become too much, knowing I have a quick way to get home is also a big reassurance.
- Knowing what I can achieve on the day. It’s important to continue to push yourself but at the same time you need to accept that you have an illness, and you’ll have good days and bad. It’s equally important therefore, not to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve what you’ve initially set out to do.
I imagine you’re probably sick of being told to take small manageable steps, but it’s actually great advise!
3/ TRICKING YOUR MIND
Sometimes it’s the enormity of a task that can lead to excessive anxiety. What you can do to counteract this, is to split what you have to do into manageable segments. Once you have completed stage 1 you can move onto stage 2, all the time only concentrating on the part you’re doing and never looking too far a head and risking causing yourself unnecessary stress. This is something that I would recommend to anyone, irrespective of if you have a mental health illness or not.
Due to my mental health I became trapped inside my house and found it impossible to venture out on my own. Up until recently, I had a carer who came to try and encourage me to do this, and help me regain my independence. The technique they used was called Graded Exposure, which involved splitting a journey into checkpoints and gradually over time, being able to get to the further points on my own before meeting with my carer. It took time, but worked really well and continues to work for me. The only difference being that I no longer have a carer, I have substituted them with friends and family. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have someone you can trust.
4/ BREATHING YOUR WAY TO CALM
Taking some deep breaths in through your nose before exhaling slowly through your mouth and watching the steady rise and fall of your chest, is one of the best proven methods for calming your anxiety. There’s probably a very good technical reason for this, something along the lines of sending messages to part of your brain which trigger a relaxation response in your body. What I do know is it helps slow your heart rate down. It helps release physical tension in your body, and importantly it gives you something else to focus your mind on, which can only be beneficial for your mental well-being.
5/ CIRCULAR JOURNEYS
Imagine doing a 4 mile walk. you walk 2 miles to a certain point and then turn around and walk the same route back.
Now imagine you do a walk the exact same distance, but instead of reaching a certain point and then turning around, you do a full circle. You still end up back where you started, but some how it feels much shorter and for me, much less stressful. I know this is clearly just a trick of the mind as you’re going the exact same distance, but what you can do is convince yourself that you’re always on your way back home. I for one find this much more reassuring. An equally effective method is to have someone drop you off at your destination and then walk home. Again there’s something comforting about always being on your way back home.
Music is a great distraction when your feeling anxious. listening to certain favourite tunes can be very relaxing, help you to unwind and forget about the pressures of life. Some people choose to download meditations or mindfulness breathing exercises. When I’m out and about on my own I’m often very anxious. I feel vulnerable and like everybody’s a potential threat. It’s at these moments that I desperately need something else to focus my mind. I find simple methods work best, such as tapping the tips of my fingers together, counting my steps or repeating a positive mantra in my head. If this fails to distract me I phone a friend. Sometimes It’s a good idea to warn them before hand to make sure they’re going to be available!
My family and friends provide me with amazing support. They’re there for me when I’m having a bad day and I’m self-doubting myself. They remind me of all that I’m doing well and encourage me to keep going. When I’m having a good day and managing to achieve my goals, they’re there to celebrate with me. If I’m attempting to go somewhere on my own It’s always reassuring to know I have a family member on hand to come and rescue me if the situation arises. I appreciate that not everyone has this support and that I’m very fortunate, but there are other methods you can use to help alleviate your anxiety.
Having a positive mantra you repeat when your feeling stressed works well for some people. Here are a few examples of these, but I would suggest coming up with your own, something that’s personal to you.
- Action conquers fear
- This too shall pass
- I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
- Keep calm and carry on
Some people need something more substantial than this. I have written reminders for different situations. I simply read through these before leaving the house and they act as a great positive reinforcement. Pictures of achievements can have the same effect. Anything that embraces you being a strong person, who’s in control of your emotions.
For anxious people it’s so easy to blow things out of all proportion, believe me I’m a world leader at this! You can see obstacles that simply don’t exist. In these moments it’s important to take some deep breaths and try to focus on the here and now. Remember, most of what you’re experiencing is completely irrational and in reality, you’re in total control of your own destiny. By taking your time and dealing with one thing at once, you’ll soon see that the task in hand is far less intimidating than you first imagined it to be. In life danger is real and will always exist, but fear is just a state of mind. Try to face up to your fears.
9/ EXERCISE/PHYSICAL LABOUR
The mind will always function better if you look after your physical body. If you’re feeling low or anxious, you may do less and be less active. You can soon get caught up in a harmful cycle. Exercise can stimulate the parts of the brain that improve mood. You’re more likely to feel good about yourself, as it can give you a sense of achievement. I also find exercise to be a great therapy and a way to escape from the pressures of life. It can help with concentration and focus, and importantly allow you to take back some control in your life.
10/ DON’T VIEW IT AS YOUR ENEMY
You mustn’t always view anxiety as your enemy. It could also be described as the cautious part of your persona, and It can be extremely helpful in keeping you safe. If the cave man wasn’t anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t last very long! Nervous energy can lead to an adrenaline rush. Top athletes and pop stars are able to use this as a way to enhance their performance. The secret it learning to control it and not let it take over and control you.
The tips I have given in this post are simply things that have worked best for me. Neither should they be viewed as a magic cure, I’m afraid there is no quick fix when it comes to mental health. I am not an expert in the field, but do have first hand experience of living with anxiety and depression and these are some of the things that have helped me to manage my illness.