What Is Anxiety and How Should We Deal With It?

September 20, 2020

I’d like to share something with you that happened to me a few days ago, which temporarily caused me anxiety. I am about to start a small but significant new role in September. When I got the job in early June, I was excited and eager to get stuck in.

Over the last two months, information and emails about the role started to arrive and increased at a pace I was not expecting or prepared for. I was hoping for an induction into the role and hand over when I started, but instead I felt like I was bombarded with information I did not know what to do with and wasn't entirely relevant to the role.

It was taking up a lot of my time and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Privately, I thought: All this for a role that is essentially only a half a day per week? It got to the point where I felt completely at a loss and could not see myself in the role. I felt a sense of doom and wanted to quit before I started. I spent a sleepless night, tossing and turning and the next morning I woke up tired due to the lack of sleep. But I shook it off and with determination decided to practise what I preach. I sat outside in my garden early in the morning and practised breath work and sun salutations (I try and spend ten to fifteen minutes most mornings on meditation). Once I’d grounded myself, I knew what I had to do. I emailed my line manager and arranged a call. I made a list of my concerns and addressed them; we had an honest conversation, which I truly appreciated. I got a lot of clarity from the conversation and the relief was enormous. I felt so much better after.

I am not someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, and to some extent it is normal to feel anxious about certain situations, like an exam or medical procedure. But for some people, anxiety is constant and affects all aspects of everyday life. If you do have GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), you may feel anxious most days and unable to remember the last time you felt relaxed or at peace.

Some of the symptoms you may experience are shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking or even nausea or abdominal distress. It may happen regardless of where you are (spontaneous anxiety) or due to particular situations (situational anxiety) or by simply ‘thinking’ of a particular situation (anticipatory anxiety). Panic attacks are very similar to anxiety, and can be caused by anxiety, typically lasting for a few minutes up to half an hour.

GAD affects about five percent of the UK population and impacts more women than men. Below are a few suggestions that will help reduce symptoms, if you suffer from anxiety regardless of how often or how severely:

1) Cue-controlled relaxation: A method that enables you to produce a relaxation response (counting your breath backwards is a common relaxation technique and guided relaxation scripts are is another popular method), then find a cue that works, for example, you might place your thumb and two fingers together while practising your relaxation response exercise. With time, the act of placing your thumb and fingers together will act as a cue or trigger for the relaxation response, which should be calming. Words can also act as cues, for example, relax, peace, calm orsafe.
- Imagery cues: A scene or an image you find relaxing, such as, a meadow, woods, a forest or a sunset.
- Physical cues: Breath work - ten deep inhalations and exhalations, several times a day.

2) Distraction (redirection): Turning your attention away from your sensations and feelings towards something else, something external. It can be something as simple as noticing what is happening around you: the people, the place, smells, touch or talking to someone.

3) Exercise, meditation, hobbies and play are also a great way to help diffuse anxiety over the longer-term.

Lastly, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be useful in identifying irrational self-destructive thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and helpful ones.

I wanted to share a personal story of when I experienced temporary anxiety due to a perceived loss of control to show that it affects us all from time to time. Anxiety is often a normal response to the chaotic world around us, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19. However, if you feel it is preventing you from living a fulfilling life in an ongoing way, get in touch and I will do my best to support you or direct you to more resources.

Reference for further reading on the techniques shared above: Anxiety, Phobias, & Panic by Reneau Z. Peurifoy, M.A., M.F.C.C

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