Anxiety is a normal, if unpleasant, part of life and it can affect us all in different ways and at different times. Whereas stress can be something that comes and goes, anxiety is something that can persist – and we don’t always know what the cause is.
Anxiety can cause some really unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms and often makes us feel that things are worse than they really are.
It can help to realise that anxiety is a perfectly normal response and stems back to our cave-man days when we were equipped with an internal alarm system designed to protect us from dangers in the wild. This system would make us hyper-alert by giving us a boost of adrenaline that would increase our heart rate and boost the amount of oxygen going to our limbs so we were better able to fight or run away from danger –the ‘fight or flight’ response.
The ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling that we often associate with anxiety is this mechanism kicking in. But instead of being used to avoid immediate danger it’s often wrongly and inappropriately activated during normal, everyday situations when stress has built up, often without us realising.
How full is your bucket?
One way of thinking about your anxiety is to imagine your stress levels as being like a bucket of water. If we keep adding stressors to the bucket (even tiny ones like the school run or commuting to work), over time it fills up until one day it overflows.
This explains why anxiety sometimes seems to come out of the blue – the trigger may have been just a very small stressor that tipped us over the edge and allowed our bucket to overflow.
So what we need is a leaky bucket with lots of holes in it to reduce our overall stress levels. Each one of these holes could be something positive that you do to manage your anxiety/stress levels, for example yoga, exercise, reading, listening to music, taking a bath, spending time with friends and family.
Work out what things you find relaxing and enjoyable and find some time every day to put holes in your stress bucket and feel your anxiety drain away.
Stress and anxiety cause us to breathe shallowly. So when we’re in a situation where we’re feeling tense anxious or upset, we immediately begin to restrict our breathing by breathing from the chest rather than deeply from the abdomen. This sets a chain of events in motion that activates the ‘fight or flight’ response.
But in just a few seconds a mini breathing exercise can shift you from chest breathing to deep abdominal breathing, speeding oxygen back to your cells and giving you chance to step back, gather your emotional resources to cope with whatever challenge faces you. You can do it any time, with your eyes open or closed, in the presence of others and even while you are doing other things. You can prevent anxiety occurring in the first place by practising before an event that you know is likely to make you tense, anxious or upset.
There are two different exercises you can try:
10 – 0
Count from 10 down to 0 while taking one complete breath – one breath in and one breath out with each number
If you start to feel light headed or dizzy, slow down your counting
When you get to 0 you should feel better, but repeat the exercise if necessary.
All the fours
As you inhale, count very slowly from 1 to 4
As you exhale, count slowly back down from 4 to 1
Do this for several breaths
Hypnotherapy can help you manage your anxiety and stress by helping your unconscious mind to calm down and find new ways of coping with situations that cause you anxiety and panic.
Hypnotherapy sessions are deeply calming as your body becomes physically relaxed and your mind takes a break from worry.
Elaine also holds Relaxation Workshops at the Natural Health Centre where you can come and discover other ways of reducing your stress – the next one is on the 6th July.