Anxiety and stress levels are escalating and becoming more prevalent throughout our community. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common of mental health concerns, with one in four Australian adults and children experiencing anxiety during their lifetime.
Common symptoms of anxiety include;
Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up, and edgy.
Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, startle reflex or obsessive thinking.
Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact study, work or social life.
Although the impacts of anxiety disorders can be substantial, they are one of the most treatable mental health disorders. To assist manage anxiety, the following strategies are recommended:
1. Slow, controlled breathing and progressive muscle relaxation
It’s recognised when people begin to feel anxious, their breathing becomes faster and shallower. Experts recommend deliberately slowing down you’re breathing by counting to three as you breathe in slowly and out for three. Setting a couple of minutes aside when you are feeling anxious to focus on your breathing can help to relax both your body and mind.
If you have the opportunity, find a quiet location where you can close your eyes and slowly tense and then relax each muscle group from your toes to your head. Hold the tension for three seconds and then release quickly. This technique aids reducing feelings of muscle tension that comes with anxiety.
For many people, a guided breathing video is a helpful way of doing this. There are several free videos on YouTube that will guide you through breathing techniques for anxiety – you can view these here https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=breathing+exercises+for+anxiety
2. Focus on the present
When we are anxious, we often worry about the future and create scenarios in our minds that both haven’t happened or are outside our control. It’s essential to shift our thinking back to the present moment. Practising meditation is an excellent way to train your brain to stay in the present moment. Verywell Mind has recently published information on the best meditation APPs available https://www.verywellmind.com/best-meditation-apps-4767322
3. Create a healthy lifestyle
Research demonstrates what we eat, drink and how active we are all contribute to the impact on the level of anxiety.
Nicotine, caffeine and stimulant drugs (such as those that contain caffeine) trigger adrenal glands releasing adrenaline, which is one of the main stress chemicals. Foods to avoid include salt and artificial additives and preservatives and all cabbages – choose fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Maintaining an active lifestyle, eating healthy balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, spending time on activities that eliminate stress and reducing screen time are all effective ways to reduce anxiety and improve your overall wellbeing.
4. Build healthy sleep habits
Research illustrates a connection between sleep behaviour and anxiety, excessive worrying and fear make it harder to fall asleep and staying asleep through the night, spurring a negative cycle of sleep deprivation and heightening anxiety.
Because of the multifaceted relationship between anxiety and sleep, getting better rest may combat feelings of anxiety. Simple steps to building healthy sleep habits can make going to bed more pleasant and create a consistent routine to enhance sleep quality.
Healthy sleep habits include:
- Optimise your sleep schedule by setting a fixed wake-up time. The only way for your body to get accustomed to a healthy sleep routine is to be consistent with a wake-up time (including weekends)
- To ensure you receive the recommended amount of sleep each night, you need to build that time into your schedule. Work backwards from your wake-up time to identify an optimal target bedtime
- Wherever possible, set aside extra time before bed to wind down and prepare for sleep. Ideally, 30 minutes of reading, stretching, bedtime yoga or journaling before bed. It’s vital during these 30 minutes you switch off all devices and lower lighting
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the afternoon and evening.
5. Take small acts of bravery
Avoiding things that make you anxious might provide some short-term relief but has been shown to impact your long-term mental health. Being courageous and approaching things that make you anxious – even in a small way to start – will help you overcome anxiety by recognising what you fear isn’t likely to happen or if it does, you’ll be able to cope.
6. Challenge your self-talk
Anxiety can make you overestimate the danger in a situation and underestimate your ability to handle it. ReachOut has provided a list of ways you can challenge negative thoughts – https://au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-challenge-negative-thoughts
7. Plan worry time
It’s hard to stop worrying entirely, so set aside some time to indulge your worries. Allow 10 minutes daily to write what is worrying you and be specific. Putting pen to paper can help relax your mind and creates a feeling of separation from those thoughts. Experts recommend doing this in the evening so that you don’t go to bed worrying and instead receive a good sleep.
8. Understand your anxiety
Every person is unique and different things may trigger our anxiety. If you invest time to understand what typically causes you anxiety and where it is coming from, you’ll begin to recognise patterns and from there, you can actively manage your anxiety.
Anyone with persistent or significant anxiety should consult a doctor who can best assess the situation and discuss potential available treatments specific to your condition.
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