Many of the people I work with tell me they are feeling more anxious than usual. It has been an unsettling time in the world – both financially and environmentally. For those of us living in Victoria, the bushfires heightened our sensitivity to global warming and the fragility of our existence at every level. Even if you’re not prone to anxiety, challenging times such as these can still make you more vulnerable to stress.
One of the more common types of anxiety is known as ‘generalised anxiety disorder’ and it often presents itself as excessive worrying. People who suffer from this ailment experience symptoms such as irritability, difficulty in concentrating, restlessness and agitation. They find it difficult to relax and often have trouble sleeping. The result is that their enjoyment of life is significantly reduced.
Five steps to manage anxiety
1. Understand what drives your worry
There are a range of factors that contribute to ‘generalised anxiety disorder’. Whilst external influences contribute to how much you’re worrying, it’s worth reflecting on what it is that drives you internally. Some common contributors are the desire to please others, an excessive need for control, perfectionism or a need for approval. Once we’re aware of our drivers it gives us a choice to re-evaluate how useful and valid these factors are in our lives.
2. Notice your thoughts
Begin by just paying attention to the often unconscious messages and thoughts that repeat themselves in your mind. Notice how often you gravitate towards ‘what if’ thinking (‘what if I lose my job?’, ‘what if I mess up my presentation/interview?’ ‘what if my business doesn’t thrive?). It’s draining to be in a constant state of worry and as most of us know, the majority of things we worry about never actually happen. It is the worry itself that affects our quality of life.
3. Challenge your thinking
Once you’re aware, take some time to write down one or two of your worrying thoughts. Then ask yourself a series of questions to explore your worry more directly.
- On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that this outcome will occur?
- What is the worst thing that can happen?
- What is the best thing that can happen?
- What is most likely to happen?
- How would you advise a friend in your situation?
- What actions can you take now to alleviate your worry?
4. Learn to physically relax
Stress and worry often present themselves as physical symptoms in our bodies. Some of the common feelings include tense muscles, racing heart, shortness of breath, a whirling feeling in the mind or a knot in your stomach. Spending just five or ten minutes allowing yourself to physically relax can reduce the amount of adrenaline in your system and help you to feel instantly calm. Find a comfortable place to lie down and put on some relaxing music. Slowly work from the top of the head all the way down your body relaxing each and every muscle. In your mind say to yourself ‘I’m relaxing my forehead; my cheeks are softening; I’m letting my shoulders drop’ as you slowly work down through the body. Allow yourself to stay in that physically relaxed state for five minutes.
5. Learn to meditate
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and take the phone off the hook
- Sit in a comfortable chair and begin by taking some long slow deep breaths
- Begin your meditation by simply focusing your attention on the sound of your outward breath
- When your thoughts distract you, gently let them go and return your focus to your breath
- Don’t worry about whether your technique is right. Just the simple act of stopping and resting will make a difference.
- If you have time, meditate for twenty minutes, checking the time on a watch or clock. If you can’t sit still for that long, begin with five minutes. Even a short meditation will help.
- Take your time coming out of your meditation
- Sit quietly at the completion of your meditation before resuming your activities