This is the second instalment in a double article about anxiety. If you haven’t read my previous post about anxiety, you can do so here. You may find it useful before continuing with this article.
In this post I will be focusing on some of the solutions that exist for anxiety. As anxiety is not a simple thing, unfortunately there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution for this issue. As mentioned in my previous article, anxiety has many different causes and manifests in different ways for different people, and to find a solution, you first have to identify which type of anxiety you’re dealing with. Let’s briefly recap what the main types of anxiety are:
– Event-based anxiety, related to specific events such as exams, interviews etc
– Situational anxiety, for example social anxiety
– Generalised anxiety, medically known as GAD.
If you are suffering with any form of anxiety, first of all define for yourself which kind you are dealing with. You may be dealing with just one specific type of anxiety, or you may have a combination of more than one. Doing this will help you immensely in knowing which strategies you could adopt.
There are a few factors present in all forms of anxiety, as mentioned in my previous article, that form the backbone of your fears. These are a misuse of the imagination, an underestimation of your capabilities, and more often than not, a need for certainty and control. The first two of these I already mentioned in my previous article, the third I will go into further in this post. But first, let’s talk a bit about the wonderful faculty that we all have, the imagination. Our imaginative faculties give us incredible gifts – the ability to invent stories, design spaces and see ourselves living how we want to, amongst other things. But if we’re not mindful of our imagination, we can just as easily use it against ourselves. We can visualise things going wrong, catastrophes occurring where none are impending, and that somehow the world is against us. One question to ask yourself, whether you have anxiety or not, is are you using your imagination to make your life brighter, or are you unconsciously using it against yourself? For myself, and many others who have dealt with anxiety, the answer is usually the latter.
First and foremost, we must be willing to take responsibility for our own minds and accept that we do have at least some control over what goes on inside our heads. Think of your mind like a group of rowdy schoolchildren – if you simply allow it to run riot without any kind of supervision, the result could quite easily be nothing short of a total mess. Yet if you choose to take control, to focus on what you actually want rather than what you don’t, and plant thoughts that lead you to a better feeling place – you’ll slowly begin to choose how you feel on a day to day basis.
Secondly, we have the notion of control vs no control in anxiety. What I mean by this is, do I have any control over what I’m worried about or not? For example, someone with social anxiety does have some control over this worry. They could choose not to socialise with anyone in an attempt to avoid the anxiety, although I’m by no means suggesting this as a strategy. Someone dreading an interview also has quite a lot of control over their situation – they can prepare what they’re going to say, research the company or organisation they’re being interviewed by and make sure they look the business on the day. Some worries are immediately solvable – for example, if you’re worried that someone is annoyed with you, you can simply sit down and ask them. However, some forms of anxiety we have much less control over. For example, constant worries such as ‘what if I get cancer?‘ are largely beyond our control. True, we can make sure that we eat well, exercise and generally live a healthy life, but to the anxious mind such worries will inevitable appear unsolvable, because even if you apply these methods there is no surefire guarantee that you won’t get cancer. This is what I would term an unsolvable worry. We lack the certainty to be able to solve it and therefore constantly turn our minds over about the problem. If we allow ourselves to. This is where my previous point of how we use our imagination is so important – worrying about anything is mostly a waste of time, but if there’s nothing you can actually do to resolve your worries, it’s time to focus on something else.
If the thing you’re worried about is within your control, there are certain imaginative strategies that can be employed to help you. Firstly, you take the situation or event you’re worried about, and ask yourself how you feel about it – perhaps worried or scared. Then ask yourself how you’d like to feel in that situation or event – it might be confident, assertive, or perhaps happy. The next thing to do is think back to a time when you displayed that particular feeling, if you can. Visualise it and feel the feeling with as much fervour as you can. Then, you want to associate certain ‘anchors’ – cues you can use to bring up said feeling whenever you want. Thinking of the desired state, establish a kinaesthetic cue for that state (perhaps clicking your fingers, rubbing your thumb), an audial cue – perhaps the word ‘confidence,’ or whatever works for you. Finally, you want a visual cue – perhaps the event that made you feel that way itself, or something else like a symbol. Now, go back to the event or situation you’re worrying about and try bringing in those anchors into the situation in your mind’s eye. You may find that with continuous use, this method allows you to change the way you feel about the situation or event.
So, we’ve established the importance of using your imagination productively, taking control where you can and letting go of what you can’t. Yet there are many other techniques for easing anxiety and helping you to move past it. The first is, of course, the more traditional route of medication and therapy. This course of action is normally prescribed for more persistent anxiety. I’ve never actually taken any medication for anxiety, however I will soon be starting CBT sessions. If you feel that your anxiety is severe and persistent, it might be worth talking to your doctor to see what your options are.
As mentioned in my previous post, your diet also plays a big role in managing anxiety. Certain foods such as caffeine and sugar act as stimulants – and the last thing an anxious mind needs is more stimulation. Choose simple, natural, healthy foods that keep you in balance. Exercise is also incredibly helpful. Exercise focuses your mind through your body, and allows your body to burn off excess stress hormones. Choose something that gets your heart going and that you enjoy, and try to do it regularly, at least twice a week. Not only will your mental health get better, but your physical health too!
The importance of where your focus is placed has already been mentioned, but I’d like to expand on it here. Your focus is not simply your imagination, but where your focus is actually going – outwards, or inwards. If your focus is frequently pointed inwards, ie towards yourself, your propensity for anxiety is likely to be higher. This is because you’ll likely be thinking about your anxiety, your problems and other such things and in effect giving them more energy. However, if you can find a more outward focus – one that takes you outside of yourself – your mind will start to become too occupied by the outward focus that it will have little room left for anxiety. For example, for me writing my soon to be published book has been a fantastic outward focus, as are most forms of creativity. Creative pursuits take you out of your head and into a constructive, rather than destructive, mindset. See if there’s something you can do for others, also; a mind focused on being of service to others is far less likely to be anxious. Volunteering, mentoring, perhaps even just helping a friend or family member with something they’re dealing with. It all helps you to feel more useful and gives your mind something more constructive to focus on.
If you have any methods or techniques you have used to help relieve anxiety, we’d love to hear about them. In the meantime, if you feel that this could be of use to someone you know, please share it with them.
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