Anxiety can be mentally and physically exhausting. It can hit anywhere, any time, and leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything.
But as hopeless as it might feel in that moment, it’s important to understand there are steps you can take to reduce your anxiety. We’ve put together a guide to dealing with anxiety as it happens — read on to find out more:
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety causes a huge range of different symptoms and can affect how you feel physically and mentally, and have a big impact on your behaviour.
Physical symptoms can include a faster heartbeat, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, headaches, chest pains, loss of appetite. Mentally, anxiety can make you feel tense, nervous, unable to relax, constantly worried, tearful, and struggling to fall asleep and insomnia. It can also make it difficult to look after yourself, as well as affecting your concentration and ability to work.
Some people may also experience panic attacks — a type of anxiety disorder — when they have a sudden feeling of intense anxiety and fear. Symptoms of a panic attack can also include feeling out of control, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath and hyperventilating, a racing heartbeat, and feeling sick or even throwing up.
How can you deal with anxiety as it happens?
When anxiety flares up it can feel like it’s completely taken over and beyond your control. Anxiety is often worse at night, but it can hit you at any point and completely disrupt your day. However, there are some steps you can take to help you cope with anxiety as it happens:
Take a breath
When you begin feeling anxious, try to take a step back and identify exactly what it is that’s making you feel worried or nervous.
When they feel anxious, most people will be worrying about something that’s already happened in the past or things that are in the future. To help with feelings of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, you need to bring yourself back into the present moment.
If you feel anxiety creeping in, you can start to take a bit of control back by stopping and taking a few deep breaths. There is also a range of breathing techniques you can try that can help you refocus, taking attention away from what’s making you anxious to your current situation.
One of the most simple techniques is to sit down comfortably, focus on taking deep breaths in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for a second and then breath out for a count of four through your mouth.
Understand what’s causing the anxiety
Sometimes you can’t immediately identify what’s causing your anxiety, or it can feel like everything is piling up all at once. While it won’t always be possible at that exact moment you start to feel the anxiety, whenever you can, try writing down the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing.
It doesn’t matter whether or not it makes sense — just get it all out on paper. Then, when you have the time, sit down and look through all the thoughts and try to identify what they are, and possible causes.
By looking at them written down in a more objective way, it can help you get a better perspective on your thoughts — making them feel less overwhelming.
Change your focus
Anxiety makes you focus on the things you can’t control — things that have happened in the past, or things in the future that haven’t happened yet and might not ever happen.
Everyone worries at some point about things like losing their job or illness, but anxiety often makes you worry excessively to the point that you can’t think about other things or go about your normal day-to-day life.
One of the ways to tackle this is to try and refocus away from worrying about the worst-case scenario.
For example, instead of worrying about losing your job, think about the positives of your job — such as what you enjoy, or what you’re good at — and try to appreciate that. Focus on taking action on the things you can control, such as working well and meeting any targets (or if you are unhappy in your job, to start looking at other opportunities).
Worrying won’t change anything, so it’s important to try and adjust your thoughts or take control of the situation, making achievable changes or taking the steps that you can.
Mindfulness and meditation
Instead of trying to tackle what’s triggering your anxiety, mindfulness is another method that can help you to be more present in the moment. It allows you to focus on the physical things you can experience there and then — making you more aware of yourself and your surroundings instead of your thoughts.
You could also try meditation to help you clear your mind of unwanted, negative thoughts.
Do something different
It can be really hard to stop feelings of anxiety, even if you know what’s triggering them. If you struggle to refocus your thoughts, then step away and try doing something different that’s completely unrelated to your anxiety.
If you’re at home, try doing some chores or organising, or start doing an activity that takes up your concentration like reading, writing, or drawing. You could teach yourself a new skill, or just put on your favourite film or TV show — anything that distracts you from your thoughts.
When you’re out and about, switch what you’re doing or put on some headphones and listen to music. And if you’re at work, try getting up and taking a walk around, making a cup of tea, talking to someone, or even just switching tasks. Changing up what you’re doing in any way possible is going to help keep your mind busy in a good way, and provide helpful focus.
Exercise is another good way to break out of your anxious thoughts. It can make you feel more motivated and it also releases endorphins, which help you to feel happier and less stressed. Find something you enjoy — in particular, yoga is known to improve your mental health and physical health.
Overall, try to focus on understanding what triggers your anxiety, what changes you can make to overcome or reduce the issues that trigger it, and work on refocusing your thoughts or changing what you’re doing.
These tips can help you to deal with anxiety as it happens, but it’s important to seek help from a doctor if you’re really struggling with anxiety and panic attacks.