It is normal to feel anxious or worried at times. However for some people, the feeling of anxiety can be so persistent and overwhelming that people feel controlled by their anxiety, which can be quite debilitating. When someone is feeling persistently anxious in objectively safe situations, it can be described as an anxiety disorder. Such disorders can greatly affect a person’s ability to function and so it is important for those who suffer from anxiety disorders to develop an understanding of what is creating and maintaining their anxiety, so they can shift their attitude towards it and begin improving their situation.
Although seeking the assistance of a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, is generally the most direct and useful way for a person with an anxiety disorder to increase their quality of life, there are techniques and strategies sufferers can use to help begin to reduce the anxiety they may feel. This in turn can have beneficial effects on their lifestyle. The following tips can be used to aid a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder:
1. Aim to observe and understand your anxiety
Notice the situations, thoughts and physical sensations that are tied in with your heightened feelings of anxiety. Notice the places, people and ideas that tend to increase your anxiety – you may or may not notice patterns. Try to identify the thoughts you have in anxiety-provoking situations – are they thoughts you have experienced from a young age, or are they more recently developed thoughts? Where did those thoughts come from? Rather than aiming to label, diagnose and judge, aim to be a curious observer.
2. Reflect on how your anxiety affects your life direction
Often people avoid situations that make them anxious in order to reduce anxiety. Are there things you used to do that you are now avoiding because of anxiety? What are they? Were they important to you? Did you enjoy them?
People who experience anxiety may also engage in actions that attempt to control or eliminate anxiety, such as drinking alcohol or smoking. Are there things you have started doing in order to cope with anxiety? Are they effective in the short term? Will they be a positive or negative aspect of your life in the long term?
If you continue to struggle against the anxiety in this way, how will your life be affected in the long run? Will you miss out on things you would like to do? Will you develop habits you would rather not have? Evaluate the current situation and how it sits with your values in life.
3. Assess your willingness to change the situation
In light of your values, are you satisfied with your current methods of coping with anxiety? How would you like it to be different? How willing are you to change the situation?
4. Consider alternative ways of viewing anxiety
Often struggling against anxiety turns it into a larger and larger problem – the more energy we put into trying to get rid of it, the more anxious we become! However, if we try to ignore anxiety and distract ourselves, often this is impossible too – anxiety is unpleasant and so it is difficult to ignore! Often when we realise that we cannot ignore anxiety or get rid of it, we may start avoiding anxiety-provoking situations or using substances to numb the feeling, such as alcohol.
However engaging in these activities is only a temporary solution – in the long run they can be very costly. Restricting out lifestyle limits the richness and fullness of life, and using substances can lead to ongoing health problems.
Learning to observe the thoughts, sensations and emotions attached to our anxiety in a non-judgmental, curious way can create space between these unpleasant internal experiences and ourselves. This space can increase our ability to act in line with our values, rather than in line with our anxiety. The more life is full of rich, meaningful experiences, the more people tend to feel satisfied, relaxed and happy.
5. Engage in self-care activities
As well as changing your attitude towards anxiety, there are a number of activities that can assist in increasing a person’s overall sense of wellbeing. These activities include exercising regularly, eating healthy food, sleeping for 7-8 hours per night and avoiding substances such as alcohol and caffeine, which have toxins that can interfere with sleep and general health.
Practicing mindfulness meditation and progressive muscle relaxation can also be helpful for teaching your body and mind to relax. Although they are not ‘solutions’ for anxiety, they can bring temporary relief and assist in changing the way your brain relates to anxiety and other unpleasant emotions and sensations.