Anxiety is growing problem and women are more likely to be affected. Studies have found 22 per cent of women in the UK feel anxious most of the time and are twice as likely as men to be anxious.
Anxiety has physical symptoms as well as causing mental problems. It can cause tense muscles, stomach problems, trouble sleeping and palpitations.
It can leave you irritable, with a sense of dread, you can have trouble concentrating. Anxiety can make you feel dizzy, sick and exhausted. It wrecks marriages and careers.
People today feel under great pressure to ‘perform’ at work and at home and to always be ‘in control’. It is too easy to believe that endless productivity – “doing” rather than simply “being” – is the main objective in life.
But life does not have to be this way – it runs contrary to our natural state of being. And there are ways to manage and banish the problem.
Here are some effective ways to beat anxiety and achieve a greater sense of well-being.
ZAP NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Every time you catch yourself getting caught up in negative internal chatter, hear it out and then say: ‘Thanks for sharing.’ Acknowledging the thought is easier than trying not to hear it. This technique teaches you to step back and observe your thoughts. It helps put you back in the driving seat. You can beat the anxieties by acknowledging their existence and sending them on their way.
BREATHE YOURSELF CALM
It is easy to forget that being calm and at ease is our natural state. Relaxation is something you can practice and get better at. Try this ‘3-5’ breathing technique. Put your hands on your belly take a deep breath in for a count of three and then breathe out for a count of five. As you breathe in, let your belly expand like a balloon; as you breathe out, let it deflate. It doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly you count; what’s important is that the out breath is longer than the in breath and that you’re breathing into your belly. This exercise sends a message to your nervous system that it is safe to relax. Lengthening the out breath and breathing into our bellies gets us out of fight-or-flight mode and in to relaxation mode, while counting helps to distract and calm your mind.
MAKE TIME FOR 15 MINUTES OF MEDITATION
It is the ultimate ‘me time’. Start off with a mindfulness meditation, which involves paying close attention to your breath. This trains your mind to be in the present moment, which is so helpful for relieving anxiety.
One study found that mindfulness meditation helped to reduce activity in the amygdala — part of the brain responsible for feeling fear — while in another, mindfulness helped 90 per cent of people reduce anxiety levels. Set a timer for 15 minutes. If possible, use a timer app on your phone with a gentle gong sound that goes off at five-minute intervals.
Sit comfortably (it doesn’t have to be on the floor or cross-legged), with your hands facing upwards on your lap and your eyes closed.
Inhale and exhale normally, focusing on the sensation of air passing into and out of your nostrils. For the first five minutes, after each complete inhale and exhale, count silently ‘one’ after the first one, then ‘two’ after the next one.
Do this all the way up to ten, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get to ten before your mind has wandered off down some thought trail.
As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently bring it back to the breath, starting at one again.
After five minutes, change the count so it’s before you inhale. Though technically it’s the same thing, changing where you place the count emphasizes the inhale more than the exhale, making it subtly different.
Continue for another five minutes, this time losing the count and focusing purely on the sensation of the breath going into and out of your nostrils, throat and lungs. Immerse yourself in this sensation until the timer goes off at the end of the 15 minutes
GIVE YOURSELF 30 MINUTES TO WORRY
One of the worst things about worrying is that it invades your everyday life.
So, let me introduce you to ‘worry time’.
This means having a designated time slot – perhaps 30mins each day – that you reserve for worrying, keeping your anxious thoughts contained there.
If you find yourself worrying at any other time, write down the worry and postpone thinking about it until your allocated worry slot.
Choose a time when you know you’ll be alone. Get some paper and a pen and write down all the things you’re worried about.
If there are things you do have some control over, find a way to take action right now. Worry, after all, can be a way of avoiding having to deal with things.
So, for each worry, ask yourself: ‘What action can I take right now?’ If there is no obvious immediate action, can you at least make a plan? Jot down the first three steps of your plan and schedule them into your diary.
What about the things beyond our control? These still need to be written down – it can help to get them into perspective. Write about something that’s troubling you. Keep going for at least five minutes. Don’t stop; scribble down anything your brain throws up. Sometimes writing it down can be enough to calm you.
THINK ABOUT YOUR DIET
It’s a little-known fact that having enough good bacteria in our diet — which can be supplemented from vegetables such as garlic, onion, leeks, avocados and peas and fermented food such as sauerkraut — actually means fewer stress hormones in our body. It’s worth adding these healthy natural ingredients to your meals.
For more details,see the book: ‘The Anxiety Solution’ by Chloe Brotheridge
(Published by Michael Joseph, £12.99)
Chloe is a clinical hypnotherapist and NHS nutritionist.
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