Understanding Anxiety

     Anxiety is the perception of threat where the body reacts physically. Some symptoms may include heart palpitations, sweating, blurred vision and thoughts, butterflies or nausea in stomach, lump in your throat and / or change in breathing. These symptoms are real and often leads to panic attacks.

     Anxiety is overwhelming and often feels like we are not coping. Anxiety can be genetic or a learnt reaction. Anxiety is real, and a significant condition that 1 in 3 Australians learn to live with. Anxiety is thoughts and feelings many experience following a specific incident like an accident, or traumatic event. However an anxiety disorder is when these symptoms interfere with your daily life and cause significant changes in your behaviour like avoiding social situations due to the fear of having an anxious episode.

     There are many types of anxiety such as; Phobias, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, amongst others. Anxiety often does not exist in isolation and may coexist and complicate other Mental Illnesses. It is important to recognise the triggers and specific incidents that contribute to your anxiety.

Living with Anxiety

     Anxiety affects 1 in 3 people. Some people are able to disguise their anxiety from people in their lives, however this is exhausting and debilitating.  Anxiety affects self-confidence and has other ramifications in our life. Anxiety may also trigger past suppressed thoughts and relationships that may not be fulfilling at this present time. It is therefore important to also work with your emotions so you can recognise them quicker, increase your awareness and insight, giving you choices for looking after yourself better. Fortunately treatment is usually very effective, however ignoring the symptoms and delaying effective intervention can perpetuate the symptoms.

     Awareness is the key to change or keep something the same. Recording symptoms helps increase awareness of having an anxiety attack earlier and can act as warning signs. Preventative and early interventions can lead to a more successful quality of living.

Treating Anxiety

     Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps one understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviours. During the course people learn how to identify and change unhelpful or destructive thought patterns that have a detrimental influence on their behaviour and lives. These principles are based on being realistic and independent in improving your quality of life.

     Sometimes medication is helpful, working hand in hand with talk therapy. Medication should be assessed by a GP or psychiatrist and be monitored to ensure this medication reduces the symptoms to allow clearer thinking and increased motivation to work on anxious thoughts and feelings.

     Exercise and hobbies are healthy choices rather than alcohol and other substance use that might reduce anxiety. This is based on the principles that a more active life reduces your cortisol (stress hormone) rather than isolated and inactive.

Anxiety deserves professional attention; this is where a counsellor can help.

Practical Suggestions to Assist Daily Living with Anxiety

  • Breathe. When we get anxious or panic our breathing becomes shallow as our heart rate increases or we hold our breath, in turn we deprive oxygen to the brain. Breathing slowly and methodically ensures we return to a normal heart rate allowing calming down and clearer thinking therefore better decisions.
  • Be realistic. Being Negative is unhelpful and hinders self-confidence.  Being positive puts you in a confident, upbeat mood. Let’s keep positivity as a goal and start being realistic.  Realistic thoughts assist’s people work out systematically what needs to occur.
  • Calming exercises. Meditation exercises, yoga, and listening to calming music. Screaming induces screaming, turn down the volume and concentrate on a calmer state. Surround yourself with calming influences like calm colours like blue and green, lavender scents, soft quieter music. If in a chaotic situation, try and remove yourself to a space you can breathe.
  • Be present. Mindfulness is about being present. At the same time as breathing, touch finger to finger, this will assist the breathing patterns, reducing sweating and blurriness, allowing you to concentrate on what is helpful to your body. Take shoes off and feel the grass blades, carpet or denim jeans. Touch is the strongest sense and brings you back to the here and now, to reality where you are safe, it is your thoughts taking you to a not pleasant anxious state.  The situation has not changed, just your thoughts and interpretation of the situations. You can change your thoughts. Consider a rollercoaster for example. Tom is excited to experience the adrenalin where Jack is anxious he will vomit. The rollercoaster is the same, it is our thoughts that change the experience and hence our anxiety.
  • Self-awareness. If you suffer from Generalised Anxiety, self-awareness of your ‘usual' attitude is to look for certainty. Life unfortunately is not always predictable; hence the need to find ways to accept risk and tolerate uncertainty is vital. Without hurt you cant find love, without hot what is cold, without pain what is pleasure? Do not take dangerous risks, however feeling vulnerable is uncomfortable yet safe.
  • Look for opportunities. Look for opportunities to change your behaviour.  If your body is producing anxiety provoking symptoms like changes in breathing, sweating palms, heart racing, interrupted thoughts, use this experience as an opportunity of awareness to try something different.
  • Acceptance. Accept what you are experiencing, although this is challenging, it is ok to be recognise that you are now anxious. Do not push these feelings away until you recognise what you are anxious about and do something with it. For example I am cold therefore I will put on a jumper. I shouldn’t be cold gives the message of not allowing you to care and improve the situation or feeling.
  • Recognise Anxiety is your foe not friend. Anxiety avoids experiences in life. Anxiety plays havoc by disrupting your thoughts. Anxiety is only 1 part of you and should not get the entire say of your existence and experiences.
  • Realistic Probability. Other helpful techniques may include looking at statistics. 1 panic attack per day lasting 5 minutes only equates to one third of a percent of your life. Therefore this does not get the entire power of your existence and experiences.
  • Anticipatory anxiety is a thought only. Anticipatory anxiety is where you are constantly on guard scared of anxiety. This stops enjoyment of other experiences. If you have survived anxiety in the past, you know it is temporary; you can get through it, even though it is unpleasant. Control the mind, it connects physical sensations with your thoughts, therefore even entertaining the idea you are stimulating a physical reaction can alert you to try the opposite and halt the destructive thoughts.
  • Avoid Avoidance. Be aware not to avoid, as this can take on an identity of its own.
  • Listen to your body. Panic erodes our trust and instincts of caring for our bodies. Trust your body as a warning signs that something needs to change. Panic is like a shadow, stop running, turn around and face it. What resources do you need to meet your shadow head on? Drop your guard, hyper vigilance keeps you alert of danger, however it contributes to your distress. This is the opportunity to try something different like introduce calmness, breathe and change your thoughts to more realistic helpful ones.
  • Edit unhelpful beliefs. Be aware of where your thoughts stemmed from, most are from our original learnt beliefs. This is the time we need to be aware if our beliefs are helping or hindering us.