Find the calm within: how to manage anxiety
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
Alex had a presentation at school the next day. He felt sick to his stomach at the mere thought of having to stand at the front of his class and talk. That night, he had trouble falling asleep and woke up several times.
Marilyn had been sitting in her car for 20 minutes, trying to find the courage to go into the restaurant. Her nephew was celebrating his seventh birthday, and she knew she couldn’t miss it, but she felt highly anxious about being around so many people. Her palms were sweaty, her heart was beating fast and she felt light-headed.
Jeff often has worries about his family, in particular how his mother views him. He also thought about how he was going to choose a career that would make his family happy. He describes himself as a people-pleaser, but feels that people often take advantage of him. His thoughts are affecting his sleep and he occasionally wakes up feeling “on edge,” irritated, and that his muscles are tense.
These scenarios describe how some people might feel anxiety. Different people experience anxiety in different ways. Some may use words such as “nervousness,” “fear,” “stress,” “panic,” “freaking out,” or “butterflies.” But overall, anxiety is characterized by having overwhelming worry or thoughts that cause distress and interfere with your ability to function at home, work, or in the community. Anxiety can affect our relationships with others too.
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- negative thinking
- excessive worry
- feeling faint or dizzy
- difficulty breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- upset stomach or nausea
- difficulty concentrating
- muscle tension
Everyone experiences anxiety to some level, and there is no single cause for anxiety. Usually, a number of factors will contribute to how you experience anxiety such as genetics, your brain chemistry, and life situations. You are not able to control these factors. However, what we do have power over is how we look at and interpret things that we experience. Core beliefs about ourselves, thinking style, and behaviours are factors that we can change. We can work to improve low self-esteem, try to change our negative thoughts, and adopt behaviours that will decrease our anxiety and stress.
Try some of the following effective anxiety-reducing strategies.
As much as possible, try to look at the bright side. For instance, after a difficult workday, do not focus on all the things you didn’t do. Instead, make a mental list of all the things you did accomplish, and how well you did it.
Evaluate the benefits of worrying
If it is a situation that we have little or no control over, there is not much we can do. Sometimes we worry so that we feel we are doing something to try to control the situation. But sometimes this brings about feelings of hopelessness.
Examine your thought processes
Do you only see the worst possible outcome? Do you make broad interpretations from a single or few events? e.g. After feeling awkward at a job interview, thinking, “I am always so awkward.” Try to stay away from thoughts using the words, always, never and every. e.g. “I never do a good job at work.” Be careful not to jump to conclusions or assume what others are thinking. e.g. “My friend can’t go out for coffee tonight. She must not like me anymore.”
Don’t try to be perfect
We often feel more anxiety when we want to be absolutely perfect at something. However, complete perfection is impossible for anyone to achieve. The end result is that you feel more worry and hopelessness because you will continually fall short of your goals. In fact, perfectionists tend to accomplish less because they spend a lot of time correcting and going over things again and again, trying to achieve an impossible standard. Meanwhile, a non-perfectionist could have accomplished twice as much work that is at an acceptable standard.
Talk about it
With any form of negative stress, it is always best to let out heavy feelings, rather than keeping them to yourself. Talking to a family member, friend, counsellor, teacher, doctor or spiritual leader will help you to feel better.
The behaviours and activities that you choose can be a powerful outlet for stress and worry. Some people find that journaling is a great way to sort out their thoughts and let go of anxiety. Playing a musical instrument or singing can serve as a creative outlet for stress. Stretching is one of the easiest anxiety-reducing techniques because you can do this anywhere. If you find that you are feeling upset or tense, take a stretch break to find immediate relief. Yoga is an activity that combines stretching, breathing exercises and meditation, which can result in inner peace.
When in doubt, turn to the Internet or YouTube to find a variety of information on relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, which can relieve anxiety because we are often worrying about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Being mindful means accepting what is happening in the present moment, and not being judgemental.
It is important to manage anxiety before it happens, not just when we experience it. This decreases the chances of having emotional and physical problems down the road.
People gather bundles of sticks to build bridges they never cross. – Author unknown
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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