January of this year marked six years since I was first diagnosed with anxiety. It is a debated topic whether one truly ever overcomes anxiety – I personally believe that I will always have a tendency to an anxious mind – but one can certainly learn how to manage it over time. I have had both counselling and psychological treatment for anxiety so if you would like to read a post about my experiences, let me know, but the best way to manage anxiety long-term is through self-management. Below I have compiled my top five ways to self-manage anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
Reducing Caffeine Intake
Ideally I would probably completely cut caffeine out of my diet but I often find that I get tired easily because of how much energy I use as part of my anxiety and therefore require at least one cup of coffee to make it through the working day. Caffeine works by counteracting the effects of adenosine in the central nervous system, which is a neurotransmitter that depresses neural activity, to help one feel more awake. However, since this is often accompanied by an increase in heart and breathing rate, it can mimic a ‘fight or flight response’ which is common in anxiety and therefore make you feel anxious.
Reducing Alcohol Intake
Alcohol is commonly known as a way of temporarily reducing stress and anxiety. It works by changing the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain which can temporarily make you feel happier. However, it can actually make you feel worse in the long run when the alcohol leaves your system, including feeling significantly more anxious. Therefore, using alcohol to counteract the feelings of anxiety can lead to an alcohol problem as you feel the need to drink more to ensure that you do not experience the alcohol withdrawal associated with increased anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves flexing and relaxing the muscles in your body to help relieve some of the physical stress that can build up in them over a day. Normally performed in sitting with eyes closed, one starts at the feet and works their way up to their head and neck, holding the muscle tension for between 10 and 15 seconds and then releasing. With practice, one becomes more aware of what muscles are particularly tense that day and can work on relaxing them specifically. I have linked a guided progressive muscle relaxation here.
Challenging Unhelpful Thoughts
It is common to get stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns which can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. By being able to identify these unhelpful thoughts, one can challenge or distance themselves from these thoughts and as a result, view the situation in a different light. Common unhelpful thinking patterns include mind reading – thinking that you know what others are thinking, fortune telling – predicting the future and mental filter – only paying attention to evidence that matches your unhelpful thought.
Mindfulness is described as knowing what is going on both inside and outside your body and being present in the moment. It is easy to get caught up in the past or the future but this exercise focuses on the being in the present and becoming more aware of stream of thoughts and feelings. One way to do this is through the Headspace app but there are also guided mindfulness videos on YouTube.
Hopefully these tips are useful for at least one of you. Please feel free to comment any further tips you have for anxiety as I would love to know what has and has not worked for you.