Even the question makes some people anxious! Anxiety. Blurg! We all have it at times. Anxiety is just a feeling but for some people it develops into an intrusive thought problem. This can cause frustration and disruption to our daily living. Anxiety doesn’t need to cripple you! So how can a person reduce his/her level of anxiety?
Let’s start by looking at some of the physical manifestations of anxiety:
- sweating more than usual
- rapid heart beat
- clammy palms/hands
- fidgety behaviour (urge to fidget and inability to remain still)
- rapid, shallow breathing
- flush of heat/red to the upper body/chest
- clenching of the jaw, hands or feet (twisting your body up like a pretzel may also occur at times of increased anxiety!)
- feelings of distress and panic
- tightness in the throat or chest
- headache or tightness in the neck and head
These are physical symptoms of anxiety that may occur individually or all at once. Anxiety is one of the most visceral emotions that we have and it triggers physical response. This physical response begins in the sympathetic nervous system. Think of this step as the body being ‘sympathetic’ to how you are feeling. You’re anxious — your body is sympathizing. This causes the body to release cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline. This sensation creates what we call ‘fight or flight syndrome’ or as some psychologist have termed it, ‘fight, flight or freeze.’
Getting to know your physical anxiety markers can quicken your ability to respond to the anxiety when it is at a lower level and therefore more manageable. It’s always easier to bring ourselves down from a 5/10 that is building, than a 10/10!
Here are a four anxiety management skills that can help:
- Relaxation breathing. Whenever anxiety builds, we start to breathe in a more rapid and shallow manner. Sit up straight or stand up and take some slow, deep breaths down into the diaphragm. If it helps, count slowly to three as you inhale and then exhale. Inhale, 2, 3 – exhale, 2, 3. Getting air back into your lungs helps to prompt the para-sympathetic nervous system (think paramedics!) to kick in and counter the effects of the ‘flight or fight’ impact.
- Shake it off! Just like our dear friend Taylor Swift sings, ‘shake it off.’ Literally shake your hands, arms and feet out to help release the physical hormones of cortisol and adrenaline. Otherwise these hormones circulate through our body looking for physical release, leaving us with a sensation of being revved up.
- Cut out the caffeine. If you have a tendency to get anxious or have panic attacks, then caffeine is NOT your friend. Caffeine is a stimulant that already gets the sympathetic nervous system revved up a bit.
- Validate the feelings. Why are you anxious? If there is a distinct trigger that has caused the anxiety then validate when and how it kicked in. “I’m feeling anxious because I’ve never been there before…and that’s okay.” It is normal to feel anxiety at times — remember that it is just a feeling. If it is more generalized and has no apparent trigger, you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder that requires professional help. Do not hesitate to get help with anxiety. It can be treated very effectively and give you freedom to rise above the paralyzing impacts it can bring when left unchecked.