Three Tips To Cope When Anxiety Strikes

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can range from nervousness to a full blown panic attack. You know you are heading there when you feel:

  • Restless
  • A sense of dread
  • Constantly “on edge”
  • It’s hard to concentrate
  • Irritable

These feelings can stop you from going out, seeing friends or even being able to work. Which can lead to more stress, feelings of guilt and not being good enough (low self-esteem).

You may also experience physical symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • A noticeable strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Stomach ache
  • Feeling sick
  • Headaches
  • Pins and needles
  • Not being able to sleep well

Some people know what causes their anxiety, it may be a phobia (fear) or a particular situation, for others the feeling comes with no real explanation.

Anxiety Girl Meme
Anxiety Girl Meme

So what can you do?

There are three tips I share with my Clients for when anxiety strikes, and generally one will work better for them than the others. So do try all the techniques and see which works best for YOU.

Technique One – Grounding

In this technique we use a mixture of focus and distraction to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly say out loud:

5 things you can see

4 things you can hear

3 things you can touch

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

Repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Two – Nursery Rhymes

In this technique we use a mixture of focus, distraction, comfort and controlled breathing to lessen the anxiety you are feeling:

When you start to feel anxious or worried slowly sing in your head, or out loud your favourite nursery rhyme.

Singing even in your head will help you control your breathing, the familiarity with your favourite nursery rhyme can bring comfort and a feeling of safety, and remembering the words and tune provides focus and distraction.

Again repeat a few times until the anxious feeling gets smaller.

Technique Three – Make Friends With Your Anxiety

In this technique we take a different approach to dealing with anxiety. When anxiety strikes we often instinctively fight it, and it’s a battle we can’t win. The more we fight the anxiety, the worse it gets.

The thing is: Your anxiety wants you to listen, it wants to keep you safe and the more you push it away the harder it tries to make you listen.

Making friends with your anxiety is not about giving in to it. It’s about accepting your anxiety for what it is (a way to keep you safe), and working with it rather than fighting that part of yourself.

So how do you change your relationship with your anxiety? 

When you start to feel anxious or worried talk to your anxiety, reassure it things will be ok, you can say things like:

‘Thank you for letting me know you are worried, but I am only going to do X, it will be fine because…’

‘We went to the supermarket last week and it was fine, I am really looking forward to getting ice cream.’

‘I know you are concerned, but remember how much we love seeing X they are funny and kind.’

This technique can take a little longer to work, as it takes time to change a relationship, it can also be used with one of the other techniques. Once the anxiety calms down a little, begin the self-talk.

Do get in touch if you would like to learn more, ask a question or book a session where I can help personalise the technique to you.

Yoga, Breath And Mental Health

I am sitting here working on the asana and pranayama sequence for our yoga class, my theme is connecting with the breath.

Breath is a central part of the Viniyoga tradition which I teach, we know that changing our breath can change how we feel and bring us back to the moment. Not the ruminations of the past, or the worry for the future; but right here, right now.

But how do we do that? How do we get from our everyday breathing to yogic breathing? How can we bring it into our practice?

There are many types of pranayama (breathing techniques), the one most commonly used during asana practice is Ujjayi or victory breath. It involves a slight muscle constriction in the lower throat, which can make you sound a little like Darth Vader. Sounds complicated right?

Like most things in life it’s easier when learning some thing to work up to it.

Features of Ujjayi include:

  • The breath is slowed down
  • It is deeper and more lengthened than normal
  • It is consciously controlled
  • There is a slight constriction in the lower throat.

In asana work we match our movement to our breath inspiring a meditative quality in our practice; so when you are starting out, worry less about the slight constriction in the throat and begin by matching your movements with the inhale and exhale. See what it is to breathe in different postures. See how the breath changes as you move or stay in an asana.

As you progress you can lengthen and deepen the breath, allowing it to support and enhance your practice. Eventually get your teacher to show you how to make the constriction in the throat.

In short begin by noticing, and remember you don’t need to be able to do everything at once, after all ‘Atha Yoganushasanam’ Yoga sutra 1.1, the time for yoga is now, not when at some point in the future you can already do it.

Once we are proficient, yogic breathing like this can be used outside the classroom to soothe anxiety, stress and improve our mental health, by deactivating the adrenaline fuelled fight, fight or freeze, of the sympathetic nervous system, and activating the para-sympathetic nervous system, to bring us to a calm and restive state, whenever we need to relax.

If you’d like to find out more about the yoga I teach and the benefits of learning pranayama breathing techniques please click the button below.

Can’t Sleep?

I came across this article in the Independent: getting less than six hours sleep a night increases risk of early death

And it prompted me to think: What causes a lack of sleep and what can we do about it?

Aside from a ‘whole number of factors such as having small children, having other health issues and environmental factors’ cited in the article by Lisa Artis of the British Sleep Council; many Clients I see state one of the largest causes of lack of sleep is stress.

Whilst stress is aggravated and worsened by lack of sleep, the article fails to mention how worry and stress also raised cortisol levels which can themselves disrupt sleep. Cortisol changes in our blood is an important part of our day/night rhythm as well as our fight or flight response.

It has long been known that ‘depression and other stress-related disorders are also associated with sleep disturbances, elevated cortisol.’ 1 Therefore it would be sensible to think that managing and working with stress and other stress-related disorders to reduce the levels of cortisol in the blood in general will improve your ability to sleep.

So how can this be done?

  • Exercise can burn off adrenaline that is linked to cortisol production making less available for use.
  • Meditation and relaxation can allow us to tell our body’s they are safe and in the present, reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to control the over-thinking that often happens in response to the problems and stress of life.
  • If you have experienced trauma, abuse or have a chronic mental health issue, counselling can help you to find better coping strategies, find a way forward and share your fears and anxieties.
  • Amy Cuddy 2 has shown how changing your body language can help change how you feel and your blood chemistry, lowering cortisol. To find out more check out her TED talk cited below.

All these strategies can help although they can take some time to work, particularly if your experience of stress has been chronic.

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  1. Arborelius L, Owens M, Plotsky P, Nemeroff C. The role of corticotropinreleasing factor in depression and anxiety disorders. J Endocrinol. 1999;160:1-12.
  2. <a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are“>http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Research And Depression

This week I came across two articles that I think are quite important. The first was by the NHS. The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey is published every seven years and is based on the results of a household survey in England. Key findings show:

  • One in five women (19 per cent) had reported symptoms of common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety disorders
  • One in four 16 to 24 year old women (26 per cent) surveyed has self-harmed, more than twice the rate in young men (10 per cent)

So what we are saying here is that for whatever reason, including the possibility that women are more likely to report mental health issues, there seems to be a disparity between mental health presentation in men and women.

The second article was about a study from Denmark which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry, it found that women who take the contraceptive pill or have hormonal implants, patches and intrauterine devices are more likely to be treated for depression, with adolescent girls appearing to be at the highest risk.

I’ve been wondering: Is there a link here?

We know that some medications can cause depressive or anxious symptoms in patients, many of them have depression listed as a side-effect on the leaflet you get with your medication. There are anecdotally many women who choose alternative forms of contraception due to mood changes and depression, but this is the first time a study has validated their experiences.

Whilst I would never advocate just stopping a medication without speaking to your doctor, if you feel you are possibly affected I would encourage you to speak to your GP, to have the discussion about depression and medication.

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Stress And Its Consequences

I’m currently writing and working on a stress management course. Sounds like some boring HR exercise right!?!

So why? What’s the problem with stress?

A little stress in our lives can be a good thing, motivating us, helping us to reach our goals and encouraging us to get out of bed (especially now the nights are drawing in and bed is oh so cosy!). Stress becomes a bad thing when we feel overwhelmed by the demands that are being placed on us and we don’t feel we have the resources to cope with them.

According to the Health and Safety Executive stress is a leading cause of time off work with the total number of working days lost due to this condition in 2014/15 being 9.9 million. Equating to an average of 23 days lost per employee who experiences stress (1)?

This means stress accounts for 35% of all work related ill-health cases and 43% of all working days lost due to ill health.

What we are saying is stress can lead to depression and/or anxiety, particularly if the stress being felt is prolonged, unmanaged and you can’t access support. It can affect your work life and your home life causing symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Being unable to sleep
  • Overthinking
  • Worrying
  • Relationship issues
  • Feeling anxious
  • Digestive troubles

So what, if anything can be done?

The ideal is to reduce or resolve whatever is causing you stress, as well as building up your emotional and mental resilience to stress. With my Clients I use a range of techniques to help them with this including:

  • Developing long-term habits to alleviate stress including how to access support and resources

  • Learning body movements and relaxation, to reduce the impact of stress on the body

  • Using meditation techniques to take control of their thoughts and improve their focus

  • Counselling for long-term issues

If you are stuggling with stress and would like more information please get in touch.

  1. http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm