A little bit of worrying can catapult us into action, but too much can have the opposite effect. So how do we stop it interfering with our enjoyment of life? Use these tried-and-tested tips to keep your anxiety levels under control.
Anxiety UK defines the feeling of anxiety as a set of bodily functions designed to make us hyper-alert by giving us a boost of adrenaline, making us better able to fight or run from physical danger. But this response can be activated during everyday situations, leaving us with constant anxious feelings. One in 10 people are likely to have a disabling anxiety disorder at some stage in their life.
Cover the basics
Give your body what it needs to function properly. Something as simple as lack of sleep, an unbalanced diet or not enough exercise could be contributing to your worrying. According to the State Government of Victoria in Australia, researchers have found that regular exercise – and the subsequent increase in physical fitness – alters levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which leads to improved mood and feelings of wellbeing. A sport requiring concentration such as football or tennis can distract you, breaking the cycle of worrying, while running or swimming offer time to sort out a problem in your head. Although alcohol might help relax you in the short-term, it can add to anxiety levels later, so it’s a good idea to always drink sensibly.
Learn to relax
Lower your stress levels. It’s not unusual for a number of small worries to build up until just a tiny concern acts as a trigger and sends you into a state of anxiety. Regular relaxation can stop you getting to this point. Try yoga, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends. NHS Choices suggests closing your eyes for a moment and imagining a place of safety and calm such as walking on a beautiful beach or snuggling up with a pet dog or cat.
Only worry about things you can control. A self-help guide produced by the Scottish Government describes ‘useful worry’ as the kind that prompts action. It gives the example of worrying that your electricity might get cut off, so you act to pay your bill on time. And that’s the right way to respond: you tackle the worry – and it goes away. The guide divides other worries into four types: the unimportant, the unlikely, the uncertain and the uncontrollable…none of which are worth worrying about.
Talk about it
You’ll soon find you’re not alone. A report by the Office for National Statistics found that worrying was in the top four of the most commonly reported neurotic symptoms among both men and women (alongside sleep problems, fatigue and irritability): one in five respondents experienced it. That means there’s a good chance friends around you have felt the same way. They might be able to offer advice, while just sharing your worries may make them seem less of a burden.
Face your fear
Avoiding it is only a short-term solution. If you always avoid a situation that scares you, you won’t be able to test out whether it is always as bad as you expect, or have the chance to work out how to reduce your anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation suggests keeping a record of when anything alarming happens and setting yourself small achievable goals. Just writing these goals down can make you feel better as you will already be doing something about it.