Dealing with stress & anxiety

If you suffer from bouts of overwhelming stress and anxiety you are not alone. Many of us know what it is feels like to be overtaken by worry, from fear of losing your job, financial concerns, relationship woes or just everything and nothing at the wrong time, however if anxiety is not controlled it can begin to take over your life and that’s when it becomes less of a nuisance and more of a mental concern that can escalate and even effect your physical wellbeing.

According to a recent survey by Friends Life, stress is affecting almost five million people in the UK alone – that equates to one sixth of the working population. What’s more, the study uncovers that young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are most likely to feel the pressure.

The increasing emphasis put on financial success and career progression, coupled with a frail economy is putting young professionals under more stress than ever before. Unemployment in the UK is falling – in October 2013 it reached 7.7 percent – however the backlash from the 2009 recession is still being felt by many young men and women trying to get a toe hold on the employment ladder.

It’s no wonder then, that anxiety is common; speak to most of your peers openly and they will admit to experiencing stress, yet despite its ubiquitous nature a lot of us find it hard to deal with anxiety when it punches its way into our lives.

Lightheadedness, skin rashes, depression, sadness and physical pain are all symptoms associated with anxiety. Some sufferers will notice the symptoms over a long period of time, others will feel it come and go almost instantaneously. There is no hard and fast cure – after all we cannot (unfortunately) just remove stress from our lives, and different coping methods will work for different individuals.

Here are some different methods for coping with anxiety when it rears its ugly head:

  1. Get moving

I was once told that all stress stems from claustrophobia – the feeling of being trapped. Whether you feel trapped by debt, a job you don’t enjoy, a negative relationship or simply a situation you don’t want to be in, claustrophobia is the cause of your negative emotions and thus your anxiety.

Back when cavemen walked the earth, their stresses and moments of claustrophobia were very different; they felt trapped by predators and their reaction had to be fight or flight in order to survive. Their bodies prepared by releasing adrenalin, which back in the day was burned off by fighting (or running) for their lives.

Today, we are far less active – often our stress builds up while we are motionless at our desks and the adrenalin produced is not dispelled, often making us feel dizzy or unwell. The cure therefore is exercise; a long run, a weight lifting session, a bike ride or a hike every day. Not only will you use up any excess adrenalin but exercise releases endorphins and can help you take you mind off a hectic day or negative thoughts.

  1. And breathe

If you can control your breathing you are immediately more in control of how you’re feeling. A deep breath can calm your body and relax your muscles making you feel immediately more at ease. Once your breathing is calm your mind is also able to put any concerns into perspective more efficiently.

Deep, relaxed breathing is one technique praised by doctors, scientists, yogis and health practitioners alike. It helps clear your head, relax your muscles and expels air, helping you slowly breath more in.

  1. Shift your focus

If you head is suddenly clouded with feelings of anxiety, one way to clear the fog is by physically changing your setting or shifting your focus. Dave Carbonell, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist and author of The Panic Attacks Workbook says that physical fixes can help combat acute anxiety. He recommends shifting your focus to your immediate environment to get out of your own head at critical moments.

“Play with the volume of your voice; shift your visual field,” he recommends. “If you’re sitting, stand up; if you’re standing, move. Use your body to remind yourself that you’re not trapped; that you are in control and that there is a whole world out there, beyond what’s going on in your mind.”

  1. Distract your mind

And movement is not the only way to distract yourself. Anxiety often builds up because you spend a lot of time thinking about being stressed – which, ironically, in turn makes the feelings of anxiety worse.

Stress is not an enjoyable emotion so you need to find ways to distract your mind. Run a bath, read a book, watch a film or simply strike up a conversation within someone nearby. The more you dwell on the feeling of anxiety, the greater that feeling will become. 

  1. Put it in perspective

Sometime the best cure for anxiety is to ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? What is the worst-case scenario? Then ask yourself whether it’s worth worrying about. Can you change the outcome, and if so, how? If you cannot influence the end result then you have to learn to accept that some things are beyond your control and that’s fine too.

Somebody once said to me: “Ninety-nine percent of the things we worry about never happen,” so we cannot spend our entire lives thinking about the what-ifs.

  1. Identify the cause

This seems like the most obvious method for overcoming stress, however it’s surprising how many people fail to identify the cause of their concerns. One of the first – and most proactive – things to do when a worry sets in is identify the source – what exactly are you stressing over? Once you have identified the cause revert to number five and put it in perspective. Can you influence change – if you can great, go ahead and do it. If you can’t you need to overcome the negative associations in other ways.

Stress is not something that can be cured by taking a tablet; you need to work hard to overcome feelings of anxiety and its important to teach yourself how to relax. Many experts suggest meditation, yoga and other similar forms of exercise, however you need to identify what works for you. Ultimately, if your anxiety becomes too overwhelming, its time to move away from the negative situation, be that your place of work, a relationship or indeed a location that makes you feel on edge. Failing that consult a doctor who can help you find the path that most suits your needs and emotional state.

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