Many people, especially men, don't like to admit that they feel anxious. But in reality, everyone's life has nail-biting moments. The demand to meet deadlines and quotas at work can trigger stress, and under stress, the brain triggers the release of stress hormones that induce two reactions: to fight back or to run away. Therefore, we are chemically designed with courage and fear intertwined. Anxiety is a biological option in everyone, from warriors to wallflowers.
The first step to getting control of your anxiety is to admit that there is nothing abnormal about feeling anxious; the issue is how much stress you experience and when you experience it. There are three states of anxiety to consider.
This is the normal biological state, when something makes us anxious for a few minutes or hours before the feeling passes. Our bodies are designed to handle these anxious spells automatically. The system gets taxed, however, when a deeply anxious event occurs such as losing your job or fighting on the battlefield.
When an event is too stressful, the brain is overwhelmed. Returning to normal balance becomes more problematic. People who have been out of work for a long time can tip into depression and soldiers in combat develop PTSD.
Also known as free-floating anxiety, this is a persistent experience of fear or trepidation, which sometimes builds into panic attacks, where no triggering event can be spotted. The severity varies with the person. Some people have anxious personalities, having turned chronic worry into a settled habit. Others feel anxious during a difficult time of life such as being pregnant or attending college.
Looking at these three options, temporary anxiety can be distressing, but takes care of itself. Anxiety overload requires professional medical and psychological treatment. Chronic anxiety sits on the fence. Sometimes self-care helps a great deal, while at other times millions of sufferers pop a tranquilizer prescribed by the doctor. The drawback of this quick fix is that it only lessens symptoms without addressing what is causing the anxiety.
Self-care is the best option for anyone who feels mild to moderate anxiety, whether a specific event caused it or not. Here are the major steps in self-care that anyone can take.
1. Admit to yourself that you are anxious and tell those close to you that it is happening.
2. Seek out a friend or family member who has gone through anxiety and dealt with it successfully. Make this person your confidant and source of empathy.
3. Don't pretend that you aren't anxious; pushing the feeling down will only make it stronger. Anxiety seeks relief and won't rest until it gets some.
4. Get regular sleep that lasts 8 to 9 hours. This can be difficult, because anxious thoughts tend to increase at bedtime. Meditation and relaxation exercises can help here. Try a natural sleep aid if your anxiety causes insomnia that leaves you exhausted during the day. Or if that doesn’t work, you may want to try an over-the-counter sleep aid. Make sure to begin with half a tablet and take it sparingly rather than turning it into a crutch and into part of your regular nighttime ritual.
5. Seriously deal with stress in your life. Anxiety is too high a price to pay for living under constant pressure. For most people, anxiety is a sign that their stress response is overloaded. Try to make time every day to be alone and quiet, to meditate, and to walk outside in nature.
6. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. People use these to help them stop worrying and feeling nervous. Ultimately, both substances contribute to the problem rather than solving it.
7. Make mental relaxation a major goal, and use a wide range of possible tactics, including developing a hobby, meditation, and silent retreats. Experience a quiet mind as your normal default state.
Once you have begun to gain a handle on your anxiety, there is a mantra you can use to combat the fact that fear feels so convincing. This is the main problem for most people who can't get past worry, nervousness, and trepidation; they believe the message their anxiety is sending. In their heads, they get thoughts like "This will turn out badly," "Something terrible is about to happen," and "I'll never be able to handle this." Actors who suffer from stage fright get all of these thoughts, only to walk onstage, and give great performances.
That's because fear isn't telling you the truth; it is only convincing you. The two are not the same. So when you have an anxious thought, use the mantra "I don't really know this is true." The truth is that right now you are okay. In other words, substitute the rationality of being okay in the present moment for the anxious feeling you are having about the past or future. In this way, you cultivate a new way for your brain to cope with difficult situations. Where it is now accustomed to believing in signals of fear, which are mindless, you can train it to look at each situation realistically in the present. All of these tactics have helped countless people to counter their anxiety, and they can help you, too.
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