All of us have dealt with anxiety—that persistent feeling of dread or edgy sense of worry that makes it difficult to sleep, eat or focus on anything else. Anxiety is a normal part of life, and is often experienced only fleetingly. But, sometimes, anxiety can become a bigger problem.
How do you know if you have acute anxiety?
If we all experience some amount of anxiety, how do you know when yours is becoming a problem? More acute anxiety typically involves at least some of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling restless
- Being physically tense
- Difficulty focusing
If you feel like anxiety is taking over your life, here’s what to do:
Stay in The Present
Anxiety is typically a function of worrying about a past occurrence or fear of a potential future occurrence. We are rarely in a situation that is giving us anxiety in the present moment. This concept may take a second to fully grasp—you may be thinking that, if you are feeling anxious, isn’t that an experience of a present situation?
The answer is usually no. Think about the cause of your anxiety. Are you worried about how something that already happened will be perceived by others? Are you worried that something bad will happen? In both of these examples, the source of your anxiety has either already happened or has not yet to happen. Next, ask yourself what the present moment is actually like. Are you OK? Still breathing? Healthy and with everything you need?
Focus on the present moment and actions that you can take towards feeling better, not on the source of your anxiety.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Addressing anxiety is often a question of changing your thought patterns. This takes time. The human brain is programmed to focus on the negative so that we don’t fail to notice things that can actually cause us bodily harm. The trick is, while our modern day lives may feel fast-paced and stressful, there is typically not a lot that will cause us immediate physical injury.
Acknowledging that our brains are looking out for us before turning our attention to more positive thoughts is a process. Give yourself time to adjust and take extra care of yourself during times of increased anxiety.
Try Meditation and Physical Activity
Meditation and exercise are two important tools for managing anxiety that everyone has at their disposal.
As a mindfulness practice, meditation can be especially helpful with the above two points of staying present and retraining your thought patterns. There are many free guided meditations on streaming platforms such as Spotify and YouTube.
Exercise has been proven to help relieve anxiety through physical release and the production of feel-good neurotransmitters that can reduce the effect of constant worry. Easy movement such as walking outside can prove just as beneficial as a full-body workout. Experiment with different exercise types until you find the practice that is most enjoyable—this will help you to stick with it.
Try incorporating mindfulness and movement daily for at least a week to see best results.
Get Help From a Professional
If your anxiety has become a persistent state, lasting more than a few weeks, it may be time to seek professional help.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the recognized treatment methods for anxiety disorders. A licensed psychologist can help guide you through the processes of staying in the present moment and retraining your thought patterns. They can also help you to unpack the source of your anxiety so that you can desensitize any trigger points or unresolved issues that you may have.
If needed, a psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help you physically cope with acute anxiety or related sleep disorders. Most experts agree that medication is most effective when used in combination with a therapeutic method such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Anxiety is at best an uncomfortable experience and at its worst, a debilitating one. By working with yourself on mind techniques such as staying present and refocusing on pleasant thoughts, you can reduce your anxiety dramatically. Tools such as exercise and meditation can also be very useful.
For particularly intense cases, do not be afraid to reach out for professional help. Working with a professional in addition to self-care practices that you can employ on your own can help you to start feeling like your normal self again in no time at all.
Todd Griffin is the Director and Principal Psychologist at TG Psychology, in Penrith, NSW. He has over 14 years of experience working with adults and young people in both public health and private practice settings. He has treated people from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a variety of emotional health and behavioral issues, including depression, anxiety, relationship issues, anger, addictions, trauma, and grief. He has also facilitated a number of group programs, treating a wide range of issues: from quitting cannabis, to social skills training, self-esteem development, and deliberate self-harm behaviors.