Anxiety is a huge problem and I am seeing more and more anxious young people in my counselling rooms every day.
Anxiety is the body’s alarm system, a way of responding to danger, be that real or perceived. When we think we are in danger our natural survival instinct kicks in and adrenaline is rushed into our bloodstream to enable us to run or fight, this is called the flight or fight response. This fight or flight response has a physical affect on our bodies, our heart begins to race, breathing gets faster and our muscles tense in preparation to run or to fight, we begin to sweat, this cools down our muscles stopping them from overheating and also makes us more slippery to our enemies,our pupils dilate to improve our vision and our digestive system slows down as we do not need it, we need all our energy to fight or run. We become more alert, our whole body is united in looking for danger and we are much less able to concentrate on anything else.
This system is fantastic, and as a race we would never have survived with out it but, what happens when this system kicks in when it isn’t needed? What if the danger is not real, what if we are overestimating the threat or underestimating our ability to cope? What if we are imagining the worse possible thing is going to happen? This can have far reaching affects on our lives. We may start to avoid certain places, people or situations, or only go out at certain times or with someone else or, we may stop going out at all. Avoidance, although it feels like it helps at the time, it can keep anxiety going. If we avoid certain people, situation or places we never learn that we can cope, we never learn that the anxiety will go away on its own.
So if we shouldn’t avoid what should we do? Firstly we need to try and deal with the physical sensations of anxiety by trying to counteract that adrenaline response. The best thing to do is to pause, take a breathe. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, hold this breathe for the a slow count of six and then slowly breathe out through your lips to a count of eight making a slight hissing sound as you do repeat this five or ten times.
Focus on the here and now. Look around you notice how the air feels as it goes in your nose and out of your mouth. Feel your feet and the muscles in your legs as you sit or stand. If you still feel anxious notice the sensations and realise they won’t kill you and they will go eventually. Don’t try and get rid of the feelings just notice them, observe them, they will abate more quickly if you accept them rather than fight them. This takes practice but really does work. If you are in a situation where you can exercise, run or walk or do anything physical that will use up some of that adrenaline. Visualise yourself coping with the situation and see the situation to a successful completion.
Facing your fears can be really scary but the more you deal with things head on the easier things will be in the long run. Practice breathing when you are not anxious learn some relaxation techniques and learn about mindfulness, take things at your own pace but do your best not to avoid. Believe me things will get easier.