For many of my clients, anxiety is something they experience on a regular basis. What I find interesting is the different ways each client will approach working with and managing their anxiety.
Sometimes it’s with a sense of curiosity, “what are these feelings and why do they keep coming up?” Other times it’s more about understanding how the anxiety is triggered: for example, knowing why certain places, types of activities or even particular people appear to make their anxiety worse.
Some clients will approach their anxiety with a real sense of gusto,
I’m sick and tired of feeling anxious and uneasy all the time. I refuse to let these worrying feelings overwhelm me!
Their desire for change is often compounded with a real sense of frustration (“I’m just not getting better”) and both serve as a catalyst, steering the client toward finding a unique solution to their worry, concern and distress.
More often than not, the above sentiment is expressed a little more timidly, something akin to the client’s inner voice or emotional longing. Indeed, I often find that clients are a little bit anxious about working towards understanding and getting familiar with their anxiety and mental health.
So what is anxiety?
Anxiety refers to feelings of worry, nervousness, or a sense of apprehension. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something.
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While the latter are common responses to a situation where we feel under pressure, they usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed. Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside – when they’re ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause (Beyond Blue, 2016).
Self-care and Anxiety
My existing clients already know how much emphasis I place on self-care. I never seem to tire of banging on about eating well, gentle exercise and cups of tea. The work of self-care is truly gold, and below are four of my fail-safe ways to support you in settling down and taking better care:
The reason I put gentle exercise first is that anxiety is often situated in and around cognition. Having a steadfast remedy that also has a grounding effect on worrying thoughts is truly a wonderful thing. For example, walking, yoga, dancing and gardening are all terrific. Tai Chi, tree-climbing, hoola-hooping – it’s all really good for the body, mind and soul. Exercise is an endorphin-producer, it gets you outdoors, it’s a distraction and it gets you breathing deeply (see below). What’s not to love?
Eat a Healthy Diet
You’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat”, and for me this rings true. We can’t fill our systems with stimulants like coffee and sugar and expect that we’ll also be able to settle down and reduce our anxiety symptoms (when we need or want to). That said, the idea of eliminating these things from our diet can also cause anxiety. So perhaps it’s more about finding a balance between recognising that our relationship to stimulants has become unhealthy, and modifying or minimising our consumption, so that it has less impact on our body/mind system.
For some, breathing exercises help to manage anxiety and to feel calmer. Taking time to mindfully inhale and exhale is the simplest thing, but is understandably often overlooked in the midst of a crisis and/or panic attack. The breath is used as a balancing tool and relaxation technique in many yogic and therapeutic modalities. For some people, breath-work and learning how to settle down and self-regulate with the breath can be the essential ingredient to their wellness cake!
Of course, all these three steps are examples of mindfulness (Siegel, 2010), paying attention to what is going on for you, responding instead of reacting, making choices instead of feeling out of control, and being present to and compassionate about what you are feeling.
Mindfulness brings us closer to our present embodied experience, and helps to lift us out of negativity and distress.
“People who practice mindfulness also are taught to notice their present experience without judgment. By simply observing that different experiences come and go over time, the practitioner comes to know the transitory nature of our experience and realise that it is not always necessary to react” (Lang. A. J, 2013).
Mental health does not magically improve any more than physical health does. But as you can see, some very simple interventions may have a clearing, calming and therapeutic effect. Learning to check in with your breath as a first point of call when you become worried or anxious is a useful place to begin. Alternatively, try getting outdoors for some gentle exercise if you feel like the walls are closing in on you.
Taking the first step in any change process is understandably difficult if you experience anxiety. If you find that you continue to feel anxious and cannot make sense of why, you may find it beneficial to seek the support and assistance of a trained therapist.
Retrieved from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety (2016)
Siegel, D (2010) Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York. Random House
Lang. A, J (2013) What Mindfulness Brings to Psychotherapy for Anxiety and Depression. ADAA. 30:409–412.