Mini Series – How to Overcome Anxiety
No. 3 – Tackling Anxiety and Dealing With Fear.
The way you think affects the way you feel. It is true, therefore, that if you are having anxious thoughts that your chances of feeling anxious are magnified. Most people that have anxious thoughts spend a lot of time fearing that bad things may happen, whether these are realistic fears or not. The more a person worries the greater the fear becomes and the reality that bad things may happen increase. We are not able to predict the future with any certainity, but people with anxiety problems tend to overestimate the balance of probability of bad things happening.
Anxious people also indulge in extreme thinking or even fantasizing about just how bad things really are. This ‘end of the world’ thinking only serves to feed the anxiety. Ask yourself the question, “are things really as bad as they seem?”. Some things may be unfortunate or unlucky or unpleasant but there certainly don’t spell doom and gloom.
Anxiety can be a deep and consummate experience that is felt physically and mentally but it is common for people to misinterpret these sensations as dangerous or a sign of coming danger. Some of these symptoms may include feeling sick, dizzy and a racing heart beat, leading to some people thinking they are having a heart attack.
Coping with attacks.
If you are affected by either panic attacks or anxiety attacks you will know they are never fun and can be extremely worrying if you do not know what they are. This can be one of the most acutely uncomfortable feelings that you are ever likely to experience and the knowledge that they may happen again without warning can leave you fearful, hopeless and helpless.
You may draw some comfort that you are not alone, in America over 5% of the population suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Having said that, this is probably of little comfort when you are experiencing one of the attacks. There are different levels of severity and frequency of attacks, from someone who finds it difficult to speak in front of an audience to those that the attacks happen so often they are unable to leave their home.
So what can you do? The first thing is to have belief that you can learn to deal with the attacks. You may even be able to eliminate them altogether or make them so insignificant that they don’t actually bother you anymore. There are many coping strategies that you can use, some will work better than others but try them all and see which one works best for you.
There are 5 main strategies you should try:
- Visualisation exercises. The aim of these is to enable you to quickly clear mental stress, tension, and anxious thoughts. Like any exercise, the more you try these the better you become and to be effective you must carry out this exercise for longer than 10 minutes in order to achieve maximum benefit. There are many books on the market that go into great length as to how you can use visualisation to ease away anxious and toxic thoughts. Its really about training the mind to let go of stress and anxiety but it is important you practice this every day and, over time, you can quickly de-stress within minutes of starting.
- Practice deep relaxation. Making time to relax is good for everyone, and even better for those who feel anxious. A good way to relax is to concentrate on your breathing ensuring it is slow and consistent. One of the initial stages of a panic attack is difficulty with breathing so by focusing your attention on this is important and helps to slow down your heart rate as well. Again, there are many books available that explain in more detail how to achieve a relaxed state.
- Develop a regular exercise regime. This is one of the best ways to combat anxiety and there are many benefits to a good programme, such as:
- production of endorphins which increase your sense of well-being;
- better digestion;
- reduces anxiety and stress;
- improves blood circulation;
- helps sleeping patterns;
- can decrease depression;
- speeds up metabolism of excess adrenaline in the bloodstream.
Caution: If you are over 35 or in poor physical condition, please see your doctor before you start any exercise programme.
There are lots of different exercise programmes available so find one that you like and will produce the results you are looking for and stick to it.
- Reduce or eliminate or stimulants from your diet. It is known that certain foods
and stimulants can create stress and anxiety. The first thing you should avoid is caffiene, it is famous for starting panic attacks, whether it’s in coffee, tea, chocolate or soft drinks. Caffeine increases the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that make you alert and awake.
Nicotine is a very strong stimulant and most smokers believe it helps to calm their nerves, whereas the opposite is true. Nicotine speeds up the heart rate and can lead to more anxiety and panic attacks and disrupts sleep patterns.
Sugar is required by the body to survive, it’s our energy and fuel. However, it is the naturally occurring sugar called glucose that is needed not the refined sugar that we find in soft drinks, cereals, sweets, sauces, etc. Too much sugar can lead to diabetes and too little blood sugar can cause hypoglycemia, the symptoms of which can resemble a panic attack. Eating more fruit and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, brown rice and pasta and vegetables will help increase your resilience to stress and anxiety.
- Replace negative self-talk with positive thinking. When you worry or are anxious, you overestimate the odds of something bad happening and underestimate your ability to deal with a negative event, should it actually happen. Practical common sense problem solving that identifies, challenges and replaces unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones can be learned and used to negate the feelings of anxiety. For example, the thought “I’ll make a fool of myself giving this presentation” would be replaced with “It’s okay if I am a bit nervous, everyone gets this when speaking to an audience”. Another example could be “I’ve handled this before okay and I’ll handle it again okay this time”.
This is not an overnight process, it takes time to identify the negative self-talk and to replace it with more helpful and realistic thoughts but with practice this is a powerful tool against panic and anxiety attacks.
Reducing the Perception of Danger
It has been proved by scientists that the body cannot distinguish the difference between real and imagined events and situations. That is why sometimes the body can experience the symptoms of anxiety from danger that is imagined rather than real. It is possible that some people invent danger to explain how they feel, i.e. “I’m having a heart attack” when the heart beats fast, or “I’m suffocating” when you find it difficult to breathe. It is these thoughts that make the panic or anxiety attack more powerful. In reality, will you get a heart attack or stop breathing when you have a panic or anxiety attack? The answer is NO.
So know we know that these thoughts of danger are over exaggerated how do we get rid of these thoughts? Firstly, begin to recognise the signs of a panic or anxiety attack and once you become aware of them and they alone cannot cause you harm you will gradually stop having these thoughts of something bad happening to you. Secondly, when you identify negative self-talk, write these down and replace them with alternative, more helpful, thoughts. Lastly, do not resist your panic attack when you are going through it. This only makes it worse. Instead, face up to the symptoms and accept what your body is going through. Let go of your feelings and just relax, recognise what you are going through and tell yourself that you have been here before and nothing bad actually happened last time.
Next Chapter: Lifestyle Changes for Reducing Anxiety.