Anxiety is a worry, nervousness or unease about future events and uncertainties. We all have been wracked with anxiety at some point or the other in our life and it is a natural response to an anticipated stressor.
Sometimes the worry might overcome us to a point that we exhaust our mental faculties and it manifests in physical reactions including hyperventilation, headache, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, lack of appetite, pacing about in worry due to the dread of the catastrophes’ and disastrous consequences that we anticipate which can wreak havoc on our mental peace as we usually feel that if we are in control of all the variables then we are better ensured of a successful outcome be it at work, relationships or other facets of our life.
According to researches most of the things we worry about are not as bad as we picture them in our heads and most of the worries do not come true. We catastrophise the situation and build up worst case scenarios to such an extent that it leads to overwhelming mental distress. Research shows that many of our imagined calamities never materialize. Precisely 85% of what the research subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning
Some of the strategies that we can employ in order to overcome anxiety are-:
Cognitive Distortions – Identifying our irrational/faulty thinking patterns helps us to take the first step in dealing with the anxiety as we have a tendency to focus on the negatives by maximizing them, and minimizing all the positives in our lives.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation- Since anxiety leads to physiological effects as well, progressive muscule relaxation helps to stabilize those effects that we experience.
We can start with the palms by clenching them and simultaneously inhaling for 4 seconds, holding our breath then as we unclench our palms we exhale for 8 seconds. Then we can move to our arms, shoulders, neck and so on. This method entails systematically tensing particular muscle groups in our body. Next, we release the tension and notice how our muscles feel when they are relaxed. This exercise helps us to lower our overall tension and stress levels, enabling us to relax when we are feeling anxious.
Deep Breathing- Deep breathing exercises helps us to calm down our racing thoughts and feel centered rather than feel overwhelmed with the chaos of rushing thoughts.
Sharing with close ones- When we share our worries with our loved ones we are able to gain different perspectives regarding the same and feel unburdened as we are able to express our thoughts and feelings which help us to create a mind space to combat the potential threats in an objective manner.
Physical Activity/Exercise – Engaging in physical exercise helps to channelize the nervous energy productively and it releases endorphins in our body or what we call happy hormones which reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol thereby elevating our mood. It has a positive holistic impact on our physical and mental well being.
Penning Our Worries Down- When we write we are able to take ourselves out of the current situation, look at the big picture and gain a holistic outlook towards our present concerns.
Expressing our anger, frustration or sadness on paper reduces the intensity of our emotions and makes us feel calmer hence helping us to gain more clarity and make rational decisions. It lets loose the negativity that we have festering inside us and reduces its deleterious effects. Psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps us come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on our physical health.
When we keep worrying, we are stuck in a loop. The negative thoughts keep building up which leads to pent up frustration and we are unable to break that loop. When we pen them down it helps us to rationally analyze our thoughts and it also leads to catharsis ( release of those pent up emotions).
Circle of Concern/Control – Circle of Concern v/s Circle of Control are two psychological building blocks.
Circle of Concern – encompasses the wide range of concerns we have, such as our health, our children, problems at work, other people’s behavior etc.
Circle of Control – encompasses those concerns that we can do something about. They are concerns that we have some control over. There are many things that concern us: Eg: Our family, friends, career, studies etc.
Everything that concerns us does not fall within our circle of control, which means that, given the situation, changing what has already taken place in the past is beyond our control, and cannot be altered. However we can direct our energies and time into areas that are in our control towards which we can take actionable steps and find solutions and resolve conflicts.
Setting SMART goals –It’s important to know one’s capacities and the amount of effort that we can put towards our goals. This helps us in learning how to shift focus and effort towards SMART (Small, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals as setting unrealistic goals are another major source of anxiety. The amount of time and effort that is expended to worry and do something about our concerns is the same. We can choose where we want to channelize our energy.
Mindfulness Meditation- Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed and make us more focused and calm.
Confine your worrying to one time period during the day – If worrying seems inevitable then we should try to limit it to a specific time period so we don’t expend all our energies on it and rather allocate more time on resolution of problems.
Gratitude Journal– This is a long term approach to inculcate positivity and reduce anxiety. When we develop a habit of focusing on the positive aspects of our life and things that make us happy then our anxiety does not reach to a level that it overpowers our rational thinking and negatively impact all domains of our life. This habit brings about a shift in our focus and eventually leads to a positive frame of mind which further enhances our mental well being.
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
– Michel de Montaigne