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How to deal with anxiety – tips from our counsellors

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Panic attacks, fatigue, insomnia and lack of focus are common symptoms of anxiety. Remember: if you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek professional help.

‹‹ Go back to the main Anxiety page to check your symptoms.


1. Take a deep breath

The first thing to do when you start to feel anxious is to breathe.

This may seem obvious, but many of us unconsciously make ourselves feel worse when anxious by breathing in short, shallow breaths into our chests.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response, helping you calm down. 

The correct breathing technique:

  1. slowly inhale to a count of four, filling your belly first and then your chest
  2. slowly exhale to a count of four
  3. gently hold your breath to a count of four
  4. repeat this several times.

Come to Connect’s next mindfulness group, where different breathing techniques are taught and discussed each week, or sign up for one of our London-based groups.


2. Accept that you’re anxious

Acceptance is critical because trying to ignore, mask or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable.

Anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling. Reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction is a way to begin to start to accept and live with anxiety as part of the human experience.

Accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence. It does mean that you will survive these feelings and grow greater resilience as your acceptance develops.

If you suspect you might've developed an anxiety disorder, you should speak to your doctor or a counsellor right away.


3. Question your thoughts

When you're anxious, your brain can start coming up with all sorts of strange ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur. These thoughts only heighten your already anxious state.

Ask yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:

  • Is this worry realistic?
  • Is this really likely to happen?
  • If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
  • Could I handle that?
  • What might I do?
  • If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
  • Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
  • What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?

4. Use a calming visualisation

If you practise the following meditation regularly, it will be easier for you to access the moment you get anxious:

Picture yourself outside in a park, garden, field or beach. Watch clouds pass by in the sky. Assign your emotions, thoughts and sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.

This is very different from what people typically do. Typically, we load emotions, thoughts and physical sensations with certain qualities and judgements, such as good or bad, right or wrong. This often intensifies anxiety.


5. Be an observer - without judgement

Practise observing your thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and opinions with compassion and without judgement.

Joining Connect’s mindfulness group can give you an opportunity to practise with other like-minded people.


6. Focus on right now

When people are anxious, they're usually obsessing about something that may occur in the future, or have occurred in the past. 

Instead of worrying, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now.


7. Focus on meaningful activities

When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a meaningful, goal-directed activity.

Do easy tasks that you’ve been putting off: organise your kitchen cupboards or tidy your bedroom.

The worst thing you can do when anxious is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel.

If you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious then you’ll get things done. Don’t sit around focusing on being anxious.


More help with anxiety:


Insomnia and sleep disorders ››

‹‹ Anxiety and HIV

 

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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 1/12/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 1/12/2018

Content Author: Anthony Clarke

Current Owner: Counselling

More information:

Mental Health Foundation's anxiety resources

Stress, anxiety and depression, NHS Choices

Be Mindful, a Mental Health Foundation resource on mindfulness