Tips to beat anxiety


We have all felt anxious at some point in time. Some people experience this more than others. No matter the severity there are things that can be done to beat anxiety. Meaningful Minds Psychologist Jeanette discusses this in more detail.

As mentioned in my previous article (Taking a Closer Look at Anxiety, dated 24 July 2017), treatment options for anxiety include good self-help information, psychotherapy, and medication. In this article we will look at how we can help ourselves to manage anxiety. The self-help methods discussed below can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy and medication.

Talking to someone you can trust

Share with someone you trust how you are feeling instead of keeping all your worries bottled up inside. One could confide in a partner, a close friend, or a family member. Keep in mind that this is only one of the ways to help ourselves manage anxiety. If we only use this method, we may run the risk of overburdening our loved ones.

Relaxation

You can calm the body and mind by doing activities that you enjoy. It is important to unwind in this way when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Otherwise, you may battle to fall asleep at night. Take time out to make sure you do at least one thing you enjoy each day, for example:

· Visit family or friends

· Participate in sport or exercise on your own

· Read a book

· Watch your favourite TV programme

· Go to the cinema

· Play a board or card game

· Do something creative (paint, draw, scrapbooking, writing, needlework)

· Take a hot bubble bath

· Listen to music

Other ways to improve relaxation include controlled breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation.

Physical exercise

Regular physical exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, is a very effective method of combating stress and releasing tension. Exercise also improves your mood by encouraging your brain to release serotonin. Good aerobic exercises include walking fast or jogging, swimming, cycling, tennis, and aerobic classes at the gym. You should try to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. Scientific data suggests that frequency is most important. It is better to exercise 20-25 minutes every day instead of exercising 3 hours on the weekend.

Avoid stimulants

Following a healthy diet can contribute to managing anxiety levels. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can particularly help you to feel less anxious. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep and when you feel tired it is difficult to control anxious feelings. Therefore, try to cut down on coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks. People often smoke and drink to help manage anxiety. Unfortunately smoking and drinking actually worsens anxiety in the long run. You can reduce your anxiety levels by giving up smoking and by drinking in moderation only.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfully paying attention to the present moment can help you to be less caught up in thoughts about unpleasant events in the past and to worry less about the future. You may enhance your ability to be mindfully aware of your present experience by attending an 8 weeks mindfulness-based stress reduction course. Research has shown that mindfulness training can lead to increased left prefrontal-cortex activation, which is associated with more positive emotions, feeling more frequently energised and joyful instead of feeling anxious and sad.

Create a “worry period”

Trying to stop or get rid of an anxious thought only acts to focus your attention even more on the anxious thought. Instead, postpone your worries by creating a worry period every day at a set time and place for example, 18h00 to 18h30 in the study. It should not be too late as you don’t want to feel anxious just before going to bed. During this time you can worry as much as you like, but the rest of the day is a worry-free zone. If you have an anxious thought during the day, write it down and postpone worrying about it until your worry period. During your worry period, you may challenge unhelpful thought patterns and start solving problems as will be described below. If you are left with nothing to worry about, you should cut your worry period short and continue enjoying the rest of your day.

Challenge unhelpful thought patterns

If you suffer from chronic anxiety, you need to analyse your thought patterns to determine whether you are habitually drawn into cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are pessimistic attitudes not necessarily based on reality, for example:

Catastrophizing - always expecting the worst-case scenario to happen

Jumping to conclusions - automatically making negative interpretations without evidence for it

The mental filter - filtering out the positives about the situation and only focusing on the negatives

Personalization - to assume responsibility for things that are beyond your control

Overgeneralization - to generalize based on a single negative experience, expecting it to remain like this forever

One can learn to challenge these negative thought patterns and form new ways of thinking by challenging anxious thoughts during your “worry period” as follows:

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