Five tips to help you manage anxiety

Clinical Psychologist at Bupa Australia
08 October 2016

Anxiety can feel absolutely horrendous. There’s no two ways about it: that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach, the feeling of utter panic and your mind racing at a million miles an hour.

It can be helpful to have a ‘fast five’ – five quick and easy things you can do to manage anxiety when it arises.

Man under water

1. Breathe

Sounds easy, right? Often we think we’re breathing fine, but sometimes we’re actually enhancing those physical feelings of anxiety.

When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe in a fast, shallow manner. We only use a portion of our full lung capacity. When we’re breathing like this, our heart pumps much faster, blood goes rushing through our bodies and we get that awful adrenalin surge that often accompanies anxiety.

So it helps to slow it all down. And deep breathing is where it’s at. Results from studies with students who were undertaking stressful exams have found that calm, deep breathing significantly reduced their stress levels.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try counting to four as you breathe in and four again as you breathe out. Relax your shoulders and place your hand on your tummy and feel it rise and fall.

2. Check your self-talk

A big part of anxiety lies in what your thoughts are and how you talk to yourself. Your internal self-talk is a powerful thing, helping to direct your mood and in turn your behaviour.

Try to become aware of your thoughts and think about whether they are helping or hindering you. Look at the evidence for and against them to help balance your thoughts out. Doing this can go a long way to managing your anxiety.

This technique is the cornerstone of cognitive behaviour therapy. This is a talking treatment that has long been established as one of the best ways to help anxiety.

3. Challenge your catastrophe scale

Anxiety is sneaky. It can hook you in and convince you that if there’s a worst thing that could happen, it will. This can then cause you to start worrying about the ‘what ifs’. This pattern can have a big impact on your life, making you feel more sensitive to pain and fears.

A helpful way to combat ‘what if’ thinking is to gently challenge it. Ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen? And if the worst happens, what does that mean?” Having a catastrophe scale (a visual scale that goes from 0 = ‘breaking a nail’ to 100 = ‘the world imploding’) can help you really assess how bad things are, and whether they could be worse.

4. Talk it out

Anxiety can make you want to shrink into yourself and hide away from the world. But it helps to do the exact opposite and talk it out.

Finding people you trust and opening up about how you’re feeling is vital in managing it. Just having a chat and the support from others can encourage you to seek further help. One study found that in people who had support networks and sought help with their anxiety, 75 percent had someone recommend they seek help, and 94 percent knew someone who had previously got help. So, the more we talk about it, the more normal it is, and the more help we all get.

5. Sit with it

It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it’s the truth. The thing with anxiety is that you may often find yourself worrying about the levels it can escalate to. It can feel downright life-threatening at times. Crippling. But anxiety is like a wave, it comes up, it peaks and then it goes down. Sometimes, as hard as it sounds, the only way to get over anxiety is to go through it.

Using a ‘step plan’ can desensitise yourself. Here’s how it works. Allow the anxiety to visit you, sit with it, and notice it going down. You then know you can survive. This technique, alongside cognitive behavioural therapy, is a really useful tool for managing anxiety.

Keeping a success journal can be helpful when combating anxiety. Even thought at the time it felt horrible – you got through it. Seeing the times where you have overcome it, or have had little wins along the way, can reinforce your efforts. When you have the belief that you can cope and manage by yourself, it can positively impact on your thoughts, motivation, and ability to combat difficulties.

Dr Sasha Lynn
Clinical Psychologist at Bupa Australia

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