Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms. Mild anxiety is vague and unsettling, while severe anxiety can seriously affect day-to-day living, especially your emotional and mental well-being.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Technically, anxiety is apprehension over an upcoming event. We anticipate the future with sometimes scary predictions that don’t necessarily have any basis in truth. In everyday life, anxiety’s physical and emotional symptoms can mean an increased heart rate, poor concentration at work, etc.
It is important to know the difference between normal feelings of anxiety which are manageable and an anxiety disorder that requires medical attention- to distinguish between what you can and cannot control by yourself.
The following things can be done at an individual level to manage anxiety and stress:
1) Learning to induce your body’s Relaxation Response
It includes inducing relaxation to your body physiologically, by either meditation or yoga or deep breathing. The aim is to focus the mind or the centre of attention to one particular thought. It also helps increase concentration levels. The individual is required to consciously relax his body and the muscles involved, thereby decreasing muscle tension, decreasing heart rate, and decreasing the level of stress hormones produced.
2) If you’re really obsessing about a specific problem, designate a focused time for it
There are issues that make us anxious all the time and being able to ignore them is simply not an option at times. No matter how much we try, the thought always coms back to us in some way or the other, and thinking about it and its consequences makes us more anxious than ever. It’s a vicious cycle- the thinking leading to worrying leading to more thinking. In such a scenario, when you can’t stop thinking about it at all, designating a particular time in which you will think about it helps, as then you don’t waste your entire day thinking about it, and hence, all the worrying can be done in that limited time, hence reducing the amount of stress felt during the rest of the day. Whenever you come close to thinking about it next, you can always put it off until later.
The best way to reduce the stress hormones of the body is engaging in exercise. Scientifically, your body releases hormones which make it more adaptable to the stressful situation, hence giving you a feeling of control and security. On another level, it also helps you channelize your energy, and keeps you from worrying as it redirects the centre of your attention.
4) Writing your worries and fears
Writing about everything that is a source of stress for you is very helpful, because it gives you more time and perspective to analyse it. When you write something that is stressful, it becomes a source of venting out your feelings, and it also helps you understand what the stressor means for you. For example, if it’s the presence of a job, or the absence of a person, it is important to understand and make a value judgement about its existence in your life, so that it can be acknowledged and dealt with accordingly.
5) Practice self-care
Nothing is more important than taking care of yourself during anxious situations, or during stress producing stimuli. You should spend time doing anything that takes your mind off the situation, and instead makes you feel pleasant about your environment. It can range from taking yourself out for shopping to taking a long bath to just being surrounded by people you admire and adore. Anything that helps you stay away from the stressor and focus on more important things, or in other words, distracts you, is beneficial and healthy for the mind and the body.
6) Differentiate between important and non-important stimuli
Talking about self-care and distraction, it is important to understand which situations are minor issues, and are producing feelings of anxiety temporarily, and hence distraction can be used as a good coping mechanism. However, there are instances where stimuli are not just worries or fears, but are rather the ones that can develop into generalised anxiety disorder, and hence ignoring their existence cannot be healthy, instead immediate help should be looked for.
Therefore, education and awareness about the types of stressors can also become important in making this distinction.
7) De-clutter everything
The presence of excessive number of things around you makes your environment look messy and has a direct impact on your mental functioning, and makes that disorganised too. For healthy and focused thought patterns, it is important to keep your environment clutter free so that your thoughts can be the same way, helping you deal with the stressful situation in a more calm, and rational way.
8) Positive thinking and warmth
Whenever faced with a stressful situation, an individual is likely to think of the worst possible outcome and your perspective on life automatically becomes pessimistic. In such situations, it’s important to have your thoughts focused towards the brighter side of things. It is important to receive the kind of warmth from your network of social support as well, the one that gives you space to be more positive and optimistic about things, decreasing the stress levels, and reducing the feelings of anxiety.
9) Animals and affection
Studies have shown that the presence of pets and animals in the vicinity of those who like to pet dogs and cats can significantly reduce the level of worry or stress the individual is feeling. The unconditional affection received makes the individual feel more relaxed, and it also stops the secretion of stress hormones, hence not making it important for the body to deal with the screenful stimuli immediately. Instead, it gives you a while to calm yourself down and think about it from a rational perspective, because that’s how the best solutions to any problem or issues arise from.
Finally, it is extremely important to realise when the general feelings of anxiety are developing into something that you can’t control, and hence seek professional help for coping with anxiety issues. If left unattended, they can develop into generalised anxiety disorders which cause impairment in the healthy-usual functioning, and hence become problematic. Detecting early signs and symptoms, and starting with therapy early help control the symptoms to a large extent possible.
Combining all these together, your anxiety is something that can be dealt with in a healthy way and be treated.