When we are feeling anxious, there are multiple short term solutions that we can implement that will alleviate anxiety in the moment.
Distraction or Numbing
When we distract ourselves and focus on something other than our anxiety, we may feel less anxious in the moment. This may give us an opportunity to refocus our thoughts immediately.
Numbing can include anything that helps us temporarily forget about our anxiety, including shopping, scrolling through social media, excessive working, gaming, drinking alcohol etc
The downside with this approach is when we stop distracting ourselves, our anxieties will reappear.
Unspinning The Familiar Feeling
Create new neural pathways in our brain by “unspinning” the familiar feeling of anxiety.
Focus on where in your body you physically feel anxiety. Notice if the feeling is spinning clockwise or anti clockwise. Spin the feeling the opposite way and notice how your anxiety dissipates.
This short video demonstrates how:
Deep Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing activates our body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite of our sympathetic nervous system, which controls our fight and flight (anxiety) response.
Deep breathing is absolutely a useful exercise, and has many benefits for our mental and emotional wellbeing, however when we use any of the above examples solely as a tool to alleviate anxiety in the moment, we teach our brain that it’s not okay to feel anxious, which can lead to us feeling ashamed, frustrated or embarrassed about our feelings.
So, we need to incorporate some long term strategies too. This is because when we distract or numb our anxieties, they will continue to keep popping back up.
This can lead us to feeling anxious about being anxious.
It soon becomes a spiral as, by immediately avoiding the anxious feeling, we are tricking our brain into believing that whatever is making us anxious in the first place, is actually a real threat.
Instead, we need to accept that anxiety is the fear of something in the future, something that hasn’t yet happened, so by distracting ourself from that feeling, we are reliving the same fear over and over.Longer Term Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety
If you struggle with an anxiety disorder, and want to feel less anxious for good, you will find it helpful to also incorporate additional strategies.
Here's a fresh perspective on managing anxiety disorders for lasting well-being:
Ditch The Label
Stop referring to yourself (or your children) as an anxious person.
Our thoughts shape our feelings, so opt for kinder, more balanced self-talk to break the cycle of constant anxiety.
If we are constantly identifying with feeling anxious, this is exactly how we will feel. Where focus goes, energy flows, and we have a choice of the label we give ourselves. By focusing on being anxious, we will attract more anxiety, as our brains are constantly looking for evidence that we are right.
Sadly, all too often, I receive calls from anxious parents telling me how anxious their child is. They tell me their child has always been a worrier. Parents explain that there is no way their child would cope with having therapy on their own, and insist on coming to the therapy sessions with their child, teenager or even young adults!
When they arrive, the parent does the majority of the talking, telling me in depth exactly how their child feels. I politely listen and then ask the child if they would like to attend their next therapy session alone. Every time, without fail, I get a “Yes” from the child.
When a child is not given the opportunity to do and learn things on their own, it is no surprise they feel they are not capable. They tell me how their parent has always told them they are a “worrier”, and it is clear that they have taken on that identity for themselves.
Now, I am not judging or criticizing here! I recognise that, had I not been on my own journey to understand my own anxious behaviour, I would have overprotected my daughter too. I recognised my own patterns and was able to correct my behaviour. As a result, my daughter went from a shy anxious child, to a confident and capable teenager.
If we are constantly labelling ourselves (or our children) as "shy", or “anxious” or “a worrier” is it any wonder that we constantly feel that way?
Talk Kindly to Yourself
I imagine you would never talk to your friend with the same language that you use to talk to yourself? So take responsibility for the words you use, and aim for kinder, more balanced self-talk.
You may find it useful to keep a thoughts diary so you can track your self talk and thoughts. I have included links to the thought diary worksheet here, as well as a list of cognitive distortions that we often tell ourselves.
Avoid Drawn Out Conversations With Yourself
Everybody worries, it is completely natural.
Thoughts will come and go, so avoid drawn out conversations with yourself and your anxiety where you try and justify how you are feeling. Observe the thoughts that you are having and imagine they are drifting away on a cloud. Visualise them going off into the distance.
Just to be clear here, we are not denying or burying the thought, we are acknowledging the thought and giving it no attention. Just because we have a worry doesn’t mean we have to keep worrying.
Mark Twain summed this up so well with one of my favourite quotes:
“I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
When I was younger, I gave my anxiety a name. I called it “Bruce”. When an unhelpful thought appeared, I thanked Bruce and told him I didn’t need that thought right now.
So practice training your mind to observe without engaging.
Befriend Your Anxiety
The sole purpose of our anxiety is to keep us safe, and we would not have survived as a species without it. Anxiety is like a smoke alarm that warns us of potential danger. Sometimes the smoke alarm goes off when we have just burnt the toast. The danger is not real, the smoke alarm is just giving us a warning.
When we feel anxious, what is the underlying fear we are being warned about? Ask yourself if it is a real fear or not. What evidence have you got to support your thoughts?
Overwhelm, fear of failure or fear of judgement are all common forms of anxiety. If we are feeling overwhelmed, what can we do to break the tasks down into smaller tasks so they are more manageable? If we are feeling we are failing, what skills do we need to learn so we can improve? If we are feeling judged, does this persons opinion actually matter to us, and will this be a concern six months from now, or a year? What about ten years from now? How important is this really?
Knowing our anxiety is just like a smoke alarm or warning system enables us to appreciate the warning we have been given, and enables us to decide ourselves if it is important or not.
Instead of immediately trying to cope with anxiety, try and develop a tolerance to it. Acceptance is key to long-term relief. Be willing to experience anxiety without the immediate urge to eliminate it.
Anxiety Disorders are often accompanied by a difficulty in expressing our needs. We all have basic human needs, one of which is certainty, so overcome this by being more assertive.
Practice asking for what you want or need, if you need more clarity about a situation, what can you do to obtain it?
If you need more love and connection in your life, what can you do to demonstrate self care and love for yourself?
Anxiety disorders can also often stem from poor boundaries. Saying “no” to unreasonable demands when appropriate is also crucial. If we are tolerating something that we are not happy about, our anxiety will continue to remind us that we are not happy. It is doing the job it is designed to do!!
So what can you do to put those boundaries in place?
Accepting that sometimes life is uncertain reduces the fear associated with it, leading to a more balanced and less anxious outlook.
All too often, we try to make meaning out of something that is said or done to us. Acknowledging that we can’t always make meaning out of other peoples behaviour sets us free.
Exercise not only has multiple benefits to our physical health but also plays a crucial role in releasing happy hormones that override anxiety.
Regular physical activity also enhances sleep quality, providing a natural way to alleviate worry. Getting enough sleep each night is vital for our mental wellbeing. Without sleep, we naturally feel more anxious, and the anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep. Have a good bedtime routine and avoid caffeine or alcohol before bedtime.
By incorporating these strategies into your daily life, you can cultivate a growth mindset that promotes long-term relief from anxiety disorders and small incremental changes can lead to significant improvements over time.
If however you are still struggling to understand the root cause of your anxiety, then you may need a trained anxiety specialist and therapist to help you.
If You Need Further Support
If you need further support with your Mental Health, a trained Anxiety Specialist can prescribe a personalised plan to understand the root cause of worry and anxiety, as well as help develop healthy coping strategies that are focused around your individual needs.
Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being. Left unresolved, mental ill health can spiral out of control and have a significant impact on relationships, work, school and family life.
So if you want to take the next steps to have a happier life, click the link below and book a free no obligation consultation call.
Other Resources You May Be Interested In:
Read What Causes Anxiety?
Download Circle of Control and Influence worksheet
Download Cognitive Distortions worksheet