Overcoming Anxiety

  • By:  Charles H. Elliott & Laura L. Smith

If you suffer from anxiety, then you are in good company—40 million Americans are suffering along with you. But you don’t have to live this way. Read on for a few easy tips excerpted from Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies, 2nd Edition (Wiley Publishing Inc., April 2010) to quickly relieve an anxiety attack so you can get over the worry and get on with your life.

• Breathe out your anxiety. Anxiety makes your breathing shallow and rapid. And rapid, shallow breathing has a way of increasing anxiety—not a useful cycle. Using a quick and easy breathing technique can help you to restore a calming pattern of breathing. If anxiety attacks you, try following these four simple steps to help you find some relief:
1. Inhale deeply through your nose.
2. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
3. Slowly let your breath out through your lips while making a slight sound—hissing, sighing, or whatever comes naturally.
4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 for a minimum of ten breaths.

• Bend a friendly ear. Anxiety is a lonely feeling, and in turn, loneliness increases anxiety. Research shows that social support helps people deal with almost any type of emotional distress, so reaching out to friends and family is a great way to help stop an anxiety attack quickly. Call a trusted friend to confide in, or stop by for a visit with a parent or sibling and talk to them about what’s going on with you. No doubt you would do the same for someone else, so don’t worry about “burdening” loved ones with your problems. They want to help!

If you find yourself without friends or someone you feel you can turn to, call upon a minister, priest, or rabbi. Or, if you have no religious connections, call a crisis line. Whatever outlet you choose, know that there is help out there in the form of a living, breathing human that you can confide in.

• Exercise to exorcise. When an anxiety attack occurs, it floods your body with adrenaline—a chemical produced by your body that causes your heart to beat faster, muscles to tighten, and various other body sensations that feel distressing. Fortunately, burning off adrenaline is easy to do—a quick jog around the neighborhood will provide instant relief.Actually, almost any type of aerobic exercise will effectively burn off adrenaline and provide you with relief from symptoms related to stress and anxiety. In addition to jogging, you can try taking a long, fast walk, dancing, jumping rope, or playing a game of tennis. Exercise is a great way to relieve your anxiety and stay in shape at the same time. It’s a win-win!

• Experience a soothing tension treatment. The most distressing aspect of anxiety is the way that it makes your body feel—tense, queasy, racy, and tight. There are some quick and simple ways that you can temporarily break through the tension and help to relieve your anxiety. For example, you can soak in a hot bath or take a long, hot shower. A 15-minute massage from your spouse or friend (or a longer one from a professional if you can afford it!) will also help. Or try lying on a heating pad or sitting in a chair that has a vibrating massager as well. Relieving the tension in your body will help your mind relax as well.

• Calm down with a cup of tea. Certain herbal teas, like chamomile, reportedly have relaxing properties. Keep a selection of herbal teas in your cupboard, and when you feel anxious, heat up a cup of your favorite brew. Hold the cup in your hands, breathe the warm scent, and spend a couple of moments enjoying the comfort of sipping tea. Concentrate on the soothing sensation and the luxury of sitting quietly and feel your anxiety begin to melt away. (Be careful to stay away from caffeinated teas, however, especially if caffeine bothers you.)

• Examine the evidence. The way you think strongly influences the way you feel. Anxious people have a tendency to think about things in ways that increase their anxiety. One of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to examine the evidence for your anxious thoughts. First, write down what you are worried about, and then ask yourself some questions about those thoughts. For example, ask yourself:
~ Is this worry truly as awful as I’m thinking it is?
~ Could some evidence contradict my anxious thoughts?
~ In a year, how important will this event be to me?
~ Am I making a dire prediction without any real basis?

After answering these questions, try to write down a more realistic perspective. It will help you to stop feeling so overwhelmed and to feel more in control of your anxiety.

• Make a mellow mix tape. Sounds have a big influence on the way we feel—they can evoke strong emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions. Think about it this way: if you listen to fingernails scraping across a blackboard, how do you feel? Most people report that it gives them a creepy, anxious feeling. Just as unpleasant sounds can unnerve you, soothing sounds can calm you down and soothe anxiety. Select some music that you find relaxing. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Turn the volume to a comforting level, relax, and listen. Allow yourself to give in to the feelings the music evokes and forget about your worries as your body and mind relax.

• Escape into a good book (or TV show or video game). As a general rule, avoiding your anxiety is not a good idea. However, if you are in a situation where you need to calm down quickly, or if you still haven’t mastered the art of dealing with your anxiety, distractions can be helpful. If you want to escape from your worries for a while, consider getting lost in a good book, a riveting movie, a challenging video game, or even some mindless television. Allowing your brain to focus on something else for awhile will give your mind a rest and give you the chance to get back in control of any anxiety you feel.

• Practice living in the moment. It may sound cheesy or cliché, but staying present and focusing on the here and now can be very powerful when it comes to overcoming your anxiety. Think about the things you are worried about. Chances are it’s something that hasn’t even happened yet and may never occur. The fact is, almost 90 percent of what people worry about never actually happens. And if it does occur, it rarely ends up being as catastrophic as the worries predict.

So focus on the here and now. Think about what you are doing. Look around you. Notice how the air feels as you breathe. Feel your feet and the muscles in your legs as you sit. If you still feel anxious, realize that the feelings will pass eventually and they won’t harm you. If you accept feeling just a bit anxious, the feelings abate more quickly than if you tell yourself to be rid of them at once. Enjoy the moment; let go of those things that haven’t happened (and may never happen!).

“If you think you worry too much, you’re not alone,” say Dr. Charles Elliott and Dr. Laura Smith, coauthors of Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies. “And there is some relief in knowing that others have come before you and have overcome anxiety—so you will too. Just keep your focus on the positives, surround yourself with a strong support system, and let yourself enjoy this life you’ve been given. You’ll find your way out of the clouds and into the sunshine in no time.”

Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies, 2nd Edition (Wiley Publishing Inc., April 2010, $21.99) is available wherever fine books are sold.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D., and Laura L. Smith, Ph.D., are clinical psychologists who specialize in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. They are the authors of several For Dummies books. For more info., visit www.psychology4people.com.

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