Yesterday I was feeling anxious. Perhaps you can relate? I was short tempered with my kids. It seemed like every little thing that could possibly go wrong did, including one child spilling cream all over the kitchen floor and the other children getting into a screaming match.
So what is anxiety really?
At the end of the day I am convinced that anxiety is a physical and emotional response to an attack on our well-being. Now sometimes that anxiety is well founded. Other times it is imagined, but either way when you experience anxiety it is real! Anxiety results when our brains tell us that something harmful is out to get us.
Anxiety can come in several different flavors including panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, phobias, post-traumatic symptoms as well as generalized anxiety.
Essentially all of those diagnoses are attempts to describe a core problem in our ability to regulate our emotions: FEAR.
It all comes back to fear. Our body responds to fear in an interesting way. Our heart beats faster, we start to monitor our surroundings (hyper-arousal), blood is shunted to our vital organs, and our breathing increases. Our goal is simple: Survive. We shift into fight or flight mode to take on the impending attack.
Now don’t get me wrong this reaction is perfect if you are being chased by a bear. However, it is not very useful when your children are asking you a million questions or your boss wants you to complete a project by tomorrow.
Many people experience anxiety on a daily basis and for some people anxiety itself can develop into a serious problem.
So what do you do?
A non-anxious person might tell you to just stop worrying, but as someone who has struggled with anxiety I will be the first to tell you that truly treating your anxiety requires a total shift in your mind, body, and spirit.
So let’s start small:
Here are three things you can do/ know to immediately help calm your anxiety…
- You are not alone! Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States? It directly impacts around 18% of the general population (NAMI, 2018). Although often stigmatized, anxiety is a very common disorder, so please let go of any shame you may feel around this issue. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a natural response to stress.
- Breath! Anxiety is your body’s response to stress. It is a natural response but is also something that needs to be managed so it doesn’t start to run your life. Breathing is an excellent coping skill that has strong evidence to support its use. Now it is important to note that you need to breath deeply to gain the full benefit of this exercise. Put your hand on your stomach and when you breath in your abdomen should move out. If your shoulders are moving up and down that means the airflow is shallow. Try inhaling for four counts and exhaling for four counts to regulate and calm your autonomic nervous system. Try this exercise to calm yourself!
- Check your internal dialogue! What kind of self-talk do you allow yourself to participate in? What things do you say to yourself? Are they negative or disaster oriented? Our words have power including the words that we say to ourselves. Speaking negatively to yourself is only going to result in more anxiety so make a commitment to stop that behavior.
Anxiety like any mental illness is normal. However, it is something that can be managed with help and proper treatment. Only about 40% of individuals with anxiety seek treatment for their symptoms. I personally have grown tremendously from working with a counselor that I know and trust. If you want more resources to help manage your anxiety check out the Anxiety Cheat Sheet.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers
Breathing Exercise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFcQpNr_KA4