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Dealing with Anxiety – Part One

relaxed-woman-by-seaEveryone feels worried or anxious sometimes, so we’re all familiar with that feeling. However, for some people, anxiety – with its uncontrollable worries, often about many different issues, can be experienced as debilitating.

Anxiety disorders are a very common mental health problem and affect about 15% of the population. Anxiety can be experienced as taking over a person’s life and preventing them from being content in their daily lives.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of anxiety include feeling on edge, feeling irritable, having tense muscles, difficulty in concentrating, getting tired easily and having trouble sleeping. People report some of these symptoms or all of them at some point in their anxious state. If anxiety is related to an illness, for example, hyperthyroidism, then the underlying problem can be treated.


Who experiences anxiety?

Although anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, women are more prone to experiencing anxiety. Research shows that almost one in five women, and one in ten men, has an anxiety disorder.

The most common types of anxiety are social phobia and post-traumatic stress. Other types include generalised anxiety and panic disorder.


When to seek help

If you feel you have a lot of worries and you feel anxious much of the time then consult your doctor or other health professional. It’s best to seek help sooner rather than later as you risk the symptoms taking over your life and relationships unless you address your concerns early.


What sort of help can you expect?

Talking to a professional about your worries and reactions is a good start in dealing with anxiety. Talking about your concerns brings them out into the open and this confiding in a professional is a first step to coming to terms with your experiences of anxiety. Once you accept your experiences you’re in a good position to do something about freeing yourself from them.

In terms of psychological therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is very effective and often a first choice of treatment. CBT helps you to change the underlying thoughts that cause your anxiety and to learn more helpful strategies and behaviour.


Some self-help strategies

Self-help strategies can help you manage your anxiety and get more control back over your life. Some basic self-help strategies include:

Mastering your breathing – an effective self-help strategy

Research offers lots of evidence for the effectiveness of breathing exercises in reducing anxiety, irritability, muscular tension and fatigue and depression. Breathing exercises can be used to deal with and prevent breath-holding, hyperventilation and shallow breathing.

As with most things in life, breathing exercises can be learnt and some immediate benefits experienced. However, persistent practice will mean that over time, you will experience more profound effects of the exercises.

Begin by becoming aware of your breathing. Although we all breathe, breath being essential to life, many of us don’t experience the full breathing you can see when an infant breathes. We can’t afford to take our breathing for granted.


Become more mindful about your breathe – breathing awareness

Try the following exercise to experience more mindful breathing. It is best if you breathe through your nose for this breathing exercise:

  1. Lie comfortably on a rug or blanket on the floor in a ‘dead body’ pose. Your legs should be straight, slightly apart and your toes pointed comfortably outwards. Your arms should be at your sides, not touching your body, with your palms up and your eyes closed.
  2. Bring your full attention to your breathing. Place your hands on your body on the spot that seems to rise and full most as your inhale and exhale. Take a note that if this spot is in your chest, you are not making full use of the lower part of your lungs. When people are anxious, they tend to breathe short, shallow breaths in their upper chest.
  3. Place both your hands gently on your abdomen and follow your breathing. Notice how your abdomen rises with each inhalation and falls with each exhalation.
  4. Do you feel your chest moving in harmony with your abdomen, or is it rigid? Spend some time letting your chest follow the movement of your abdomen.
  5. Scan your body for any tension, especially in your throat, chest and abdomen.

Becoming more mindful about your breathing and mastering sound breathing techniques to help calm your mind and body are essential to dealing with feelings of anxiety.

Maybe you find yourself yawning or sighing during the day. This can mean that you aren’t getting enough oxygen. Sighing and yawning are you body’s way of remedying the situation. Have you noticed that a sigh is often accompanied by a sense that things are not what they should be? Usually there is also a feeling of tension.

Sighing can release some tension and can be practised as a quick way of relaxing. Try the relaxing sigh exercise and do it whenever the need arises.


The Relaxing Sigh

  1. Sit or stand up straight.
  2. Sigh deeply, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs.
  3. Don’t think about inhaling – just let the air come in naturally.
  4. Repeat this procedure between 8 and 10 times whenever you feel the need for it.

Experience the feeling of relaxation!

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