Anxiety comes in many forms for many different people. From the short-term anxiety about an upcoming presentation or job interview to General or Seasonal Anxiety Disorders that impact daily life, anxiety affects a large portion of the population.
Some signs that you’re feeling anxious or facing an anxiety attack
- Tense body- your body is stiff, your jaw is clenched, your shoulders are tight
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing, tightening in chest
- Persistent headache, feeling unwell
- Cycling of thoughts, hyper fixation, general feeling of negativity– you might not even notice that you’re doing that but take a moment to check to see if there’s only been certain topics circling around your mind for the last while. Do you feel like you’ve been thinking the same 5 thoughts without a break? Are feeling you feeling a general sense of doom?
Tips for Handling Anxiety
Most of these techniques are quick methods of redirecting your attention away from the stressor and to help you focus back on your surroundings. Some depend on your body’s instinctive reaction while others require a little more conscious action on your own part. The goal is to ground yourself physically and mentally back to the present in order to decrease the signs of anxiety.
- Take a deep breath, have a sip of water
- Rapid, shallow breathing would’ve indicated to your body that there was a stressor nearby, leading to a few of your other signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate. A deep breath would disrupt that and increase your oxygen intake too. Small sips of water are preferable over large gulps. In particular, if you’re feeling unwell or having sensory overload, drinking the water too quickly may only serve to worsen those feelings.
- At the very least, you should try to shake out some of the tension in your body, unclench your jaw, roll your shoulders, wiggle your fingers. If possible, do more exercise. Do some push-ups or jumping-jacks. Go for a walk or a run to change your setting.
- Chew some gum or stick some ice in your mouth
- This works to redirect your attention to your other senses. Chewing something is especially helpful because it lowers the stress response by reminding your brain that since you’re eating, you likely aren’t in a high-threat or dangerous situation. As well, it introduces new elements (a new taste or sensation) which further serves as a distraction.
- Grounding techniques
- The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a simple way for you to ground yourself and bring your focus back to your surroundings. You can modify to what works best for you by rearranging the order of the observations or by saying what you feel aloud. The general premise of this is: name 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell (or take 2 deep breaths), and 1 thing you taste (or think about what your favourite food is)
- Making lists helps to draw your focus back onto your surroundings and out of your own head. There are several variations of this, and you can alter to it to fit your preferences or environment. One way is to pick a colour and list everything you see in the room with that colour. Or, you can go alphabetically and find something in the room for each letter.
- If feeling fidgety, find something to do with your hands
- Take apart or twirl a pen, fold or crumple some paper, stack some objects you have nearby.
- If feeling caged up and stuck, talk to someone
- One of the more effective methods is to find someone to talk to (verbally would be better than texting, which is better than nothing at all). Ultimately the topic of conversation depends on you. Use your judgement- do you need to vent or discuss the cause of your anxiety head-on? Or would it be better for your mental health to have a talk about unrelated topics? If you have a particularly good person to talk to, you might be able to get a laugh or two in- which would give your brain that much needed serotonin and dopamine boost to reassure you that you’re doing alright.
- Another method is to put on a show- again, this is based on your judgement, but light-hearted comedies would likely be more helpful than dark thrillers. Familiar or well-loved shows are good too. Since we already know the ending and general plot, it decreases the anxiety of a bad or unexpected ending. It’s always comforting to revisit with an old favourite- seeing old characters and hearing a well-loved soundtrack. Anything that can make you laugh or brings you joy is best for reminding yourself that the anxiety you feel is not permanent.
Lastly, try not to be too hard on yourself.
Anxiety is a part of life for many people- some more so than others- and many of the factors that affect it are well-beyond our control. It helps to know that trying your best does not always mean trying your all-time, peak-performance best. It means that you did what you could- in that moment, at that time, you did the best that you were able to do.