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The Ultimate Guide to Managing Anxiety (Including Tips for Loved Ones)

UGH!  Anxiety!  I don’t think there’s a single person on earth who hasn’t experienced it!  But some people don’t seem to suffer from it at all!   It seems that there are tricks to experiencing anxiety and not suffering and ways to minimize it.  After many years of battling this demon (and let’s be honest, still sometimes working on it). I’ve found some techniques that help slay the beast.  You don’t have to be ruled by your anxiety or even your anxiety about anxiety!  I’m sharing my best tips, tricks and observations to prevent panic attacks and keep anxiety at bay, regardless of the situation you may find yourself in!  And I’m also going to share what to do (and not do) if someone you love struggles with anxiety or panic attacks.

Anxiety

What is it?

Anxiety is a feeling.  Sounds simple and harmless enough, right?  But it can be overwhelming and completely take over your body and thoughts.  Sometimes people even experience panic attacks that are so severe they end up in a hospital emergency room.  This has happened to me and let me tell you it’s terrifying!  Often your heart races and it can be difficult to breath, you feel woozy like you might pass out and you may be nauseous or even vomit!  All in all, it’s not a pleasant experience!  Just writing about it makes me feel a bit anxious.

Where does it come from?

The thing is that anxiety is a necessary and important experience.  Throughout human history and even today it warns us of possible or imminent danger.  It signals when we are in circumstances that could be risky.  And it helps us get things done! 

No one complains about that bad gut feeling that kept them from being in a dangerous situation.  And no one complains when their anxiety causes them to be extra cautious while driving on icy roads.  Often it is anxiety that motivates us to leave for work early, to catch our flight or to get to our interview on time. 

We all accept anxiety when it serves us, and it often does.  Just embracing this fact can make anxiety a lot easier to deal with.  It’s ok to experience anxiety.  It’s perfectly safe and natural.  In fact, most of the time it’s even beneficial!

What makes it go haywire?

When anxiety becomes unwieldy or is being triggered by common occurrences it’s going haywire.  Experiencing anxiety in otherwise calm situations can be quite unsettling.  Everything feels wrong because you’re experiencing a warning signal when there’s no obvious danger.  This basically makes your brain freak out!  It tries to come up with all the many things that could be wrong or might be wrong.  And once the spin starts it’s difficult to stop!  The what ifs become so overwhelming you can’t even remember where you started and find yourself in a complete panic.  If you’re the hypervigilant type, like me, the what if’s might be what triggered the anxiety in the first place! 

So, what can you do to keep your anxiety at bay?  How do you keep it from going haywire?

Prevention

There are some things you can do to prevent anxiety from occurring in the first place.  Some circumstances simply lend themselves to anxiety.  Learning to identify them and create new thoughts and situations can make all the difference in the world!

Analyze it

Get yourself into a quiet safe place and state of mind.  Now think about times in the past when you’ve struggled with anxiety.  What factors played into it?  Were the same people involved in many of your anxious experiences (in thought or action)?  What commonalities can you find between your anxious experiences.

Many times, we find that there are a few circumstances that tend to trigger anxiety.  Things like work pressure, being extremely busy or unrested or just the thought of a specific person or activity.  Once we’ve identified our common causes of anxiety we can work to prevent or avoid it!

Avoid Situations and people that Trigger it

Whenever possible and appropriate avoid situations that trigger anxiety.  If you don’t have an obligation to participate, simply don’t.  This doesn’t mean that you never do anything that makes you uncomfortable and it doesn’t give you cart blanche to avoid every family get together.  It simply means that you don’t have to participate in everything!  For example, if you know that family can be a trigger, you can keep your visit short and you might want to avoid extended time together (like several days in one week or a family trip).  Set yourself up for peace and success!

Unsafe situations and people

If there are people or situations in your life that are dangerous or abusive you have every right to remove yourself.  Please know that it isn’t just you.  Most people have at least one person in their family who is toxic to be around.  Often, they don’t know it or are too broken to stop themselves and there is no use discussing it.  It is completely reasonable to refuse to be around a person who is harmful to you or your family.  It is also completely reasonable to attend gatherings where they are present, offer a simple “hello” and then avoid them.  Don’t put yourself in the line of fire!  You aren’t obligated to participate in activities that are unsafe, or to be in situations or around people who are dangerous to you (mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally or in any other way).

Create comfort around situations and people that trigger

When you know that you are going to have to be in a situation that could be anxiety provoking be prepared.  By this I don’t mean “be hyper-vigilant”.  I mean, be well rested, be thoughtful about how much time you commit to spend in this situation, be in a good frame of mind, take something with you that could be distracting (if possible), don’t consume a lot of caffeine or alcohol before or at your event and don’t schedule a bunch of stressful stuff all at once.

It is also very helpful to create a code word with your spouse or someone else (they don’t even have to be there; you can text it to them).  When you use the code word the other person makes up an excuse for you to leave (or makes the infamous emergency call).  Just knowing that you have an escape hatch in a potentially stressful situation can be extremely comforting!

Hyper-vigilance

Ummmm… yeah… this is definitely my nemesis!  I’m sure I’m not the only one! 

In the hopes of “being prepared” I tend to perseverate on every last little detail.  And I try to imagine whatever MIGHT go wrong in order to avoid it.  This is a great way to have terrible anxiety about things that haven’t even happened yet and might NEVER occur.  If you can spin it though, it can really help you figure out some pretty huge problems, like how to overcome anxiety, so it’s a blessing and a curse kind of thing!

Reminding yourself when you go down that bunny trail that these things might not even happen can be very helpful.  It is also important to recognize that others might not share your concerns or be able to join you in your problem-solving efforts.  That’s ok.  It isn’t because they think you’re crazy or they won’t validate your concerns.  It’s because they have a different problem-solving strategy.  And, honestly, they are probably your best teammate… you can come up with ways to prevent the problems and they can resolve issues on the fly!  Be comforted by the ways your skills complement each other!

Catastrophic thinking

I assure you that it will not all come to an end if you or someone else accidentally makes a poor choice or wrong decision.  The things that bring it all to a screeching halt are either things that are obvious or things that are unavoidable!  Seriously… think about that!  You already know that driving drunk is dangerous so you won’t choose that and if someone else does there isn’t a single thing you can do about it! 

Catastrophic thinking is taking a thought or the thought of a situation and making it a huge life or death thing.  A lot of people do this around the holidays… Christmas will NOT in fact be ruined if you don’t find the perfect gift for your mother in law.  You will NOT in fact fail at everything in life if you don’t ace your final exam!  And seriously, your marriage won’t be OVER because you’re struggling to agree on your Christmas budget or whether to use beads, ribbon or tinsel!  (Do people still use tinsel in the 21st century?)

Stop being so black and white!  Take a deep breath and let it go!  Whatever it is, I guarantee you it isn’t the end of the world (unless of course you alone hold the nuclear codes).

Overstimulation

Part of why we are so prone to anxiety is because we are constantly amped up to begin with.  Everything has gotten so much louder, smellier and brighter.  And don’t get me started on the piles of information and pressure coming at us from every direction!  Of course, we are always on edge!  Our brains never seem to get a break so it’s no wonder that they always feel like they’re on the verge of overheating!

SHUT IT DOWN!  Enjoy some quiet time!  Separate from your cell phone and computer screen and even turn off the tv!  Get some quiet!  Maybe journal or listen to some soothing music. Read a book or take a hot bath!  Cut out the nonstop stimuli!  Start being careful of what you allow to enter your brain and your space through your senses.  You can control this and for optimal health and wellbeing, you should!  This is especially important during particularly busy times in your life or immediately before or after a stressful task or event!

Too much hustle

I know “hustle” is the word of the millennium but seriously we need to chill a bit!  Too much hustle is BAD for you and it won’t result in getting more done!  There is a point where haste makes waste and you’re just spinning your wheels.  Recharging time, particularly out in nature, can be the very thing you need to be as productive as possible.

Stretching yourself beyond your limits without taking a break or refreshing is sure to cause panic and anxiety.  Make it part of your hustle to prioritize resting and recharging!  You’ll be far more efficient, accomplish so much more and feel a lot better!  You’ll be glad you did!

Meditation, rest and self-care

Meditation, rest and self-care are imperative to preventing anxiety and panic.  Be sure to work them in DAILY!  If you are overtired or over stretched, you are already on edge.  It won’t take much to send you over!  A healthy sleep schedule, exercise, good nutrition and TLC goes a long way to preventing anxiety.  And meditation helps you connect with yourself and care for yourself.  For more about this check out My Mental Health Journey.

Raise your vibe

I know it sounds pretty crunchy, but it works!  Spend time working on your energy and your vibe!  When you have good positive energy it’s much harder to be brought into panic, fear or anxiety.  When your frequency is higher you draw higher frequency experiences and people to you (the cornerstone of manifestation).  This makes it less likely that you’ll even encounter things, situations and people that are likely to trigger anxiety.

Spend some time daily doing affirmations, writing in your journal, visualizing the desires of your heart and connecting with God (the divine, source energy, the universe… whatever your jam is).  You’ll raise your vibe, be more naturally intuitive and less likely to negatively experience anxiety!

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What to do when you’re actively struggling with anxiety

Perhaps you’ve tried all the above (or none of it, that’s ok too) but you still find yourself experiencing anxiety.  It can be very handy and comforting to have some strategies lined up to help you cope with it and knowing that you have them may prevent anxiety from setting in in the first place.  For most people it’s the fear and helpless feelings that make anxiety so difficult to cope with so just knowing you have a go-to strategy to manage it is a game changer! 

If you suffer from anxiety often, I suggest you write these ideas down on index cards and carry them around with you.  That way if you’re feeling foggy with panic, you’ll have prompts to help you remember these strategies.

Observe it

Observing anxiety can be very helpful!  Remember it is a feeling.  That doesn’t mean that it’s real or that the thoughts it leads to are real.  Pretend you are a scientist or an actor preparing for a role.  Just look at the anxiety as if it is outside of you.  What is it really?  If you tried to draw it, what would it look like?  Is it really a monster with sharp scary teeth or is it simply a blob of energy that’s pretty harmless? 

Seeing the anxiety as something inane and even sometimes beneficial and as a feeling that you control can remove its mystical power.  You can simply acknowledge it, validate it, express gratitude for it and move on.  “Hello anxiety, I see you. I know that you’re trying to warn me, and I appreciate it.  You’ve done your job, thank you.”  Repeat it as necessary.  You’ll be surprised how effective this is as a way to resolve your anxiety. 

Find quiet comfort

Find a quiet space or activity that you find comforting.  Giving yourself time to unwind and relax can make all the difference.  Anxiety often tells you that you MUST do something right now and often that just makes it worse!  Don’t be fooled into ineffective action.  Taking a break is more often the key to overcoming anxiety. 

There may be times when you need to cancel plans or cut back on activities, do it!  And if it would be comforting to cuddle with your significant other or you need to be alone voice your needs.  No one is psychic but those who love you want to help.  And, it’s ok if you think one thing might help but it actually makes you feel worse.  Let them know.  No one will be mad at you or disappointed in you.

Dance

Sometimes you just need to dance it out!  Physical activity gives you a place to put all that nervous energy and it stimulates endorphins and your endocannabinoid system.  Both are soothing.  It also helps you combat cortisol and adrenalin!

Sure, you could go for a run or lift weights or even do yoga to make yourself feel better.  But something about dancing and music seems to really do the trick for me!  It’s hard to stay in any kind of funk with your favorite songs blaring while you flail around!  Don’t worry what it looks like, just have fun!

Change your thinking

Take a moment to consider what thoughts are clouding your mind.  Are they helpful or harmful?  Is there even anything you can do about the situation that’s occupying your mind?  Is it even something within your control?  Change your thinking. Focus your mind on your strength.  Focus on times in the past when you’ve overcome challenges.  Remember how strong and capable you are.  Visualize something that brings you peace, comfort or joy!  And let go of anything that isn’t yours or within your control!

Give yourself permission to experience it

Stop trying to fight it!  Anxiety does serve a purpose!  Often the fear of anxiety and panic is half of the problem.  There is nothing to be afraid of!  It’s ok to experience anxiety.  Remind yourself that you have control over your feelings and that you are safe and ok.  Imagine it is a big crashing wave and you’re a surfer riding it.  You are the master… it is NOT!  There is nothing to fight or fear!

Use a mantra

This is one of my all-time favorites!  I LOVE mantras!  I use them all the time for all sorts of things.  It’s a great distraction for your brain and a great way to train it and create new neuro pathways. 

Remember when I said that a huge contributor to anxiety is your brain trying to figure out what the danger is?  Well that’s true!  And that’s why things like experiencing the anxiety and changing your thoughts work so well.  But those are more effective in the initial stages of anxiety.  It is very difficult to do that once it has taken hold because it feels like your brain is swimming and out of control.  Having a simple mantra or 2 that you can go to really helps.  Write them down and carry them with you in case you need them.  Then anytime anxiety strikes repeat them silently or aloud again and again until the anxiety lifts.

Here are some great mantras I’ve heard or used

  • I am safe
  • The divine is within me
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (mantras based in your religious beliefs tend to be very effective)
  • The answer will come when I’m ready
  • I have all the answers I need
  • I’ve got this
  • I am strong and capable
  • I’m open to receiving

Basically, any thought or idea that is validating and offers comfort could be a good mantra.  You can even use one of your affirmations as a mantra!  I recommend avoiding negative statements because the brain likes to latch on to the negative component, especially when we’re anxious.  So, things like “this won’t last forever” might not be the best. 

Count

Distract your brain by counting.  This is especially effective if you count backward by an unusual factor.  I generally count backward from 100 by 3s.  It’s just difficult enough to keep me occupied but not frustrated and it takes long enough to calm me.

Sing a song

You don’t have to sing aloud!  Like the counting this works because it distracts your brain!  Think of a song, any song (preferably one you like and know most of the words too) and sing it in your head.  This could be Christmas carols or a favorite tune from your youth.  Avoid songs with overly sentimental meanings.  You don’t want to trade anxiety for sorrow because you’re focusing on the song that was played at your grandma’s funeral or your couple song with your ex!

Belly Breathing

Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to overcome and prevent anxiety.  To properly belly breath place one hand on your belly and take a deep breath in, focusing on expanding your stomach.  Count to between 4 and 6 while breathing in.  Then exhale, feeling your stomach shrink while counting to 8.  Focus on pushing all the air out of your lungs.

You can even visualize your anxiety being pushed out on your exhales and peace and joy being inhaled and traveling to every part of your body.  Start with your toes and work your way up until even the top of your head has received peace and joy!

When someone you love is experiencing anxiety

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It can be very difficult to tell when someone you love is experiencing anxiety and it can be even harder for them to express it to you. 

They might cry or appear to be struggling to breath, they may be short and irritable or they could even shut down and become very quiet and withdrawn.  The best way to find out if someone you care about is experiencing anxiety is to simply and specifically ask them.

If someone you care about is behaving differently from their normal in anyway you should suspect anxiety first and ask!  Don’t assume that they are just being difficult and try to avoid getting defensive this will only make things worse!

Here’s a great way to explore your concerns… “you appear to be having a hard time right now, are you experiencing some anxiety?”

Don’t panic

It’s ok if your loved one is experiencing anxiety!  And there is NOTHING you can do about it directly, but you might be able to offer comfort!  Think of anxiety as the equivalent of a seizure.  When someone has a seizure all you can do is keep them comfortable and safe.  You can’t stop the seizure and you didn’t cause it, so you don’t take it personally.  Anxiety is the same way. 

It will pass!  If you panic it will go on longer and be more severe, so just relax and go with it.

Don’t try to fix it

You aren’t going to fix the anxiety (even if the other person says you can, which sometimes happens).  This is because you can’t control the way another person feels.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could?!?!  Trying to fix anxiety tends to make it worse.  It often makes the person who’s experiencing it feel embarrassed, blamed or worse and that could cause an outright panic. 

Even though you just read this article and even if your partner gave it to you to read don’t try to push them to use the tools mentioned.  You can ASK them, “do you want me to help you use your anxiety tools” or “do you think it would help to use your anxiety tools” But you can NOT push them or pressure them to do it!

Ask Questions

Let me caution you, don’t ask too many questions and try to avoid open ended ones.  It’s unlikely that a person who is struggling with anxiety will be able to answer questions like “what do you need” or “how can I help”. 

The most effective questions are “would you like me to stay / sit with you?” “would you like some tea (or something else that might be comforting)” or “would you like a hug”? 

Keep your questions concise and specific.  And don’t offer anything you aren’t willing to give!

Be present

If someone you love is struggling with anxiety or panic and they want you to stay with them, settle in.  It could be a while and your presence and patience are probably the best thing you can do to help them.  Sit quietly beside them and hold their hand, rub their head or offer to help in some other way.  Simply being with them makes all the difference.  Tell them you understand and are there for them.  Do NOT try to solve their problem, calm them down or stop them from experiencing anxiety.  This only makes them feel more helpless or like a burden which will exacerbate the anxiety.

If you are struggling or need a break

If you are struggling to stay present clearly communicate that you need a moment.  The more specific you can be about what you need the better.  And that you will come back soon.  Anxiety can be overwhelming simply to witness so even taking a “bathroom break” to collect yourself can be helpful. 

Of course, if you find yourself struggling as well communicate that you don’t feel you can assist anymore and offer to call someone for help or take your loved one for medical intervention.  There is no need to put yourself in danger.  But if you can stay and be present with them do.  It’s a great opportunity to work on your patience.

Give them space

If the person who is having anxiety asks to be alone, give them space.  Don’t go too far because they may change their mind.  It’s very difficult to know what you want or need in the moment that you are struggling with anxiety.  So just be patient.  Head to a different room and feel free to watch a show or read a bit, just don’t be loud and disruptive or start any projects.  And be available.  Simply respecting the wishes of a person struggling with anxiety can be very empowering to them and help them break free!

When in doubt seek medical care!

Whether you have anxiety or love someone who does it can be very helpful to have prevention, coping and assisting tricks and tips.  But at the end of the day you still may need therapy, medical assistance or medication.  Don’t be stubborn!  Don’t hesitate to get assistance if you need it (or even THINK you do!) And, you should never self-diagnose!  If you’re suffering from shortness of breath, chest pains or other significant physical symptoms head to your nearest urgent care or emergency room or call 911.  Sure, it could be a panic attack, but it could also be a serious medical crisis.  Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed, it happens all the time!  It could save your life to get medical care when you need it, it’s better to be safe than sorry! 

Do you have any techniques that work for you?  Please share in the comments!  And, share this post!  It might make a world of difference to someone you love!

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Posted in Health, Health & Wellness, Nurtured Self, Relationships, Self Care, Wellness

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