Coping with Anxiety
These practical ‘coping with anxiety tips’ are a starting point to lift you out of your ceaseless cycle of worry and place you into somewhere brighter, ready to embrace life. They have been written using experience from my hypnotherapy practice in Cardiff. The majority of my hypnotherapy patients have anxiety-related issues. Quite often it is the main focus of their therapeutic goal.
Anxiety is the apprehension about something that is you think is going to happen. It is usually based on something that has gone wrong before. That past situation is now buried in the depths of your mind, yet it feeds into your irrational prediction that the outcome is going to all go wrong again. Let’s face it; in reality, it hardly ever happens that way. But the past event lies there to protect you from danger (fight or flight response) with such force, that it disables you with inaction. Your mind is stuck in worry mode and it needs help coping with anxiety. So, what can you do? Here are my practical ‘coping with anxiety tips.’
Coping with anxiety tip #1: Learn to breathe
This is a fundamental ‘coping with anxiety tip’. It’s something that you just “do” and you have heard people say it in passing, “take a deep breath.” But breathing properly to reduce anxiety is something that few can master with effect. When someone around you is anxious, pay attention to where they are breathing from. It’s likely to be high in the chest. Then consider how quickly they are breathing. They will be ventilating with short, rapid breaths. This can prolong the feelings of anxiety and make your symptoms worse. Learning to breathe for relaxation has the effect of calming the nervous system and lowering the stress responses. Read this article on breathing techniques to reduce anxiety for more details.
Once you have begun to use breathing techniques, you can learn to centre your mind. In a more relaxed state, it’s easier to access other resourceful ‘mind’ techniques that can help you when coping with anxiety. In a hypnotherapy course, this is a core technique that is incorporated into the early part of the hypnotherapy treatment. View it as life-skill beyond hypnotherapy. It is useful for coping with anxiety and many more emotional states.
Coping with anxiety tip #2: Do some physical activity
Did I say the ‘E’ word? No, that’s because exercise (oops, I said it!) doesn’t have to be a regimented activity in the gym. If it is and you enjoy it, then go ahead and do some. You may be someone who likes your exercise to be self-directed. So you go on each exercise station problem solving or exorcising (pun intended!) your worries whilst doing something repetitive. Have you noticed how some people sit at an exercise station, daydreaming until someone walks past and “wakes” them into their next set of repetitions? This happens with any activity that has a repeated movement like running or swimming. For those with muscular tension, any activity that has an increased level of effort involved like using weights or circuit training can release physical tension associated with anxiety. Combining these elements with something competitive can help your mind to be absorbed in something else. This can be by playing a racquet sport with a friend. You may even employ a personal trainer who helps to personalise the “no pain, no gain” process.
If “exercise for exercise sake” just seems pointless, then physical activity can be disguised as something more sociable and fun. Try dancing, swimming, brisk walking and chatting with a friend, or try something as part of a hobby like light gardening. What is important with the physical activity is that you place extra physical demand on your cardiovascular system. This in turn will trigger more forceful breathing so that the diaphragm muscle is brought into play. This breathing response links with ‘coping with anxiety tip #1’. You are again breathing abdominally, but the exercise is initiating the relaxation response rather than it being a conscious process.
In my hypnotherapy consultations, my hypnotherapy patients who exercise say that it helps them when coping with anxiety and releasing physical tension. They feel much better after having done some physical activity. Coming from a health, fitness and coaching background, I would recommend exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s more than just a ‘coping with anxiety tip’.
Coping with anxiety tip #3: Have some useful distractions
This ‘coping with anxiety tip’ is useful when you are worrying about a problem that can’t be resolved right away and you can get stuck in worry ‘mode’. This situation can be made worse when there is nothing else to focus on. The aim is to centre your attention on something that can absorb your mind just enough to leave anxiety where it is. This does not mean fill every moment with activity however. Coping with anxiety directly is something quite different. This is just another way to temporarily manage your anxiety by ‘stepping out’ of it, aware that it will be dealt with at a different time. Call it strategic avoidance. It’s useful when you a dreading making a phone call to someone who is absent. You have planned the conversation but you don’t know how they will respond. So you keep worrying about this, filling every quiet moment with ‘what if’s’. The call just needs to be made, but unfortunately they are not available.
When using a valid distraction, it’s crucial to consider:
- The level of concentration required in an activity and
- The level of importance of the activity.
Both of these issues can overlap. Consider when you come home from work and have finished with the evening’s essentials. Anxiety could easily take over the remaining evening, so how will you fill that time? Having a number of projects can offer you options. It’s for you to decide if the crossword puzzle, night class, DVD, reading book, DIY or any other pastime/hobby fills the criteria. If the activity is routine and trivial, like watching (but not really watching) television, your mind will switch out rather than switch in to the television programme. (This is not always a bad thing, but it is a different process to strategic avoidance). So anxiety and boredom can run alongside each other well. Counter boredom and it will help you when coping with anxiety.
Coping with anxiety Tips #4: Get talking
Is there any substance in the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”? If you have a good social circle, it can be a very natural ‘coping with anxiety tip’. Talking to people can help to lift your mood and release your anxiety. You don’t have to be given an action plan of solutions that you take with you and tick off as you deal with each one. It can just be about being placed in a situation where you are talking to someone and they are there listening to you. It can be (ideally) in person, on Skype or even on the telephone, as long as you are connecting in some way with the listener.
When you can have a good “natter”, you can offload and unburden your worries and then feel free of them. It’s the emotional attachment to your worries that make them more of an issue than the issues per se. Remember that worries are perceived and only exist in your mind. When the emotion has changed, the problem can be repositioned in your mind. Talking is like unloading your heavy burdens onto someone else who has space in their worry trailer.
The listener doesn’t have to be a professional therapist. As long as they are patient with you and seek to understand the nature of your issue, you can benefit from the interaction. And if you feel guilty about taking up their valuable time or “borrowing” from them, you can always return the favour on another occasion. Coping with anxiety can be a two-way exchange.
Hypnotherapy consultations involve a hypnotic induction. When exploring the patient’s issues, the early part of the session is a useful opportunity for you to offload and discuss the problems related to your goal. When the situation demands it, I let this cathartic function continue, being aware that it is therapeutic in your overall treatment. It helps to build report and this helps you to be more receptive to my hypnotic suggestions.
Coping with anxiety Tips #5: Get writing
Writing a letter, but not sending it, is a particularly useful way of coping with your anxiety if you have a more reserved personality. There is evidence to suggest that it is a good platform to actively process and express your feelings but in a passive way. In certain situations, processing them is all that is needed to feel better about them. Writing a (disposable) letter is typically useful for emotions likesuppressed anger, when venting it directly at the person would not be wholly appropriate. When writing a letter, no one needs to be involved in the process unless you choose them to be. So the disposable letter acts as the cathartic release of your raw emotion. You can “get it off your chest” without needing to rant at the other person and then regret it afterwards.
With the emotion of anxiety however, the letter does not have to be aimed at anyone in particular. You can address it to your own mind! You recognise that your mind is generating these worries and it is getting you nowhere. So rather than being possessed by it, the letter gives you the opportunity to step outside of the worry and communicate with the anxiety. Consider that in your mind, you can go through internal discussions several times a day. Call it the process of deliberating. When there is a dominant part of you, it is that “voice” that will make the loudest noise. When you are struggling coping with anxiety, anxiety is the most dominant part of your mind. And when you can’t bargain with it, the act of writing the letter strengthens other parts of your mind, giving the writing process more power to discharge your anxiety.
There’s a huge difference between dealing with something and suppressing it. By writing a letter in this style, you are acknowledging that your mind’s anxiety is doing the job that it is designed to do (if only a little too well). You are opening the lid on the anxiety box and releasing it, rather than shutting the lid on it where it usually builds up and returns with a vengeance. When suppressed, the anxiety comes to the surface when you try to relax or it plays through your dreams creating restless sleep.
The way you structure the letter further facilitates the cathartic process. Avoid a letter in which you are just expanding your worries. It can drown you in anxiety and be counter-productive. Write the letter in two stages.
- Acknowledge the negative state. In this case it is anxiety. State the worries and fears you have. Detail them just enough to be able to vent them. State what they are doing to you and how you are reacting to them. Detail some of the symptoms.
- Reject the negative state and embrace its positive-opposite (antonym). State how you are taking a huge step over to the positive side and succeeding in a more favourable place. With anxiety the opposite could be relaxation, calmness, peacefulness, confidence, contentment or assurance. State what the positive side is doing for you, how it is empowering you to act and how you are making significant changes to your life.
What you write is down to your own imagination. Before starting, just give your mind a few moments to meditate, letting the negative energy of the emotion surface before you spill the beans and then modify the emotion.
Here’s an example:
“Dear Anxiety, (Stage 1) thank you for informing me about (the worry) in this very fictitious way. I am aware of your role in my mind and of the importance of this (worry). I appreciate how I have previously suffered with (the worry) and how it is feeding your presence. But waiting until I am desperate is a low tactic. (Stage 2) You see, I have had enough of (the symptoms) and being deceived by your ‘what-ifs’. They don’t materialise anyway. It’s time to let you go. I’m moving in with (confidence) and it is inspiring me to take action. I am already feeling calmer. My breathing has slowed and today I am going to (intentions). I am in control and have realised that my choices are now running the show.”
This is just a short example of the letter format. Be as open and expressive as you want. Remember that it is not being sent to anyone unless you choose it to be. I suggest that the next day, shred it as a final virtuous act.
I would consider the process of letter writing as a good precursor to a hypnotherapy consultation. In many ways it is a visualised rehearsal for something that you would like to take place, but it may not be appropriate at that particular time. I would value it as a practical self-hypnosis activity. In my hypnotherapy consultations, I have used this letter writing activity as a visualised therapeutic exercise when my patient struggling when coping with anxiety.
Coping with anxiety tips: Hypnotherapy summary
These practical ‘coping with anxiety tips’ are active ways in which you can release your mind from anxiety and the associated physical tension that is generated from it. When you can incorporate these activities into your lifestyle, they will reduce your awareness of anxiety. You can feel more relaxed and feel fitter. Coping with anxiety is an on-going process.
As you would expect, a hypnotherapy course would have a much deeper impact on certain types of anxiety. A hypnotherapy course can help you to relax whilst being in a highly suggestible state. It can help plant techniques that have a lasting impression on your thinking. Hypnotherapy can also help you to reframe sensitising events that are influencing your anxiety.