Anxiety can be defined as worrying about something that is happening now or that might happen in the future. Often anxiety comes from worrying about a series of hypothetical situations and ‘what ifs’.
A certain amount of anxiety is normal. It’s the body’s way of expressing fear or responding to a potential threat. While it’s okay to feel anxious about a job interview, an exam, or an immediate problem to be solved, anxiety becomes an issue when it starts to take control of your life, and stops you from doing things, or taking part in everyday activities.
It would be easy if you could just tell yourself to stop worrying, but when anxiety takes hold, sometimes you feel convinced that you have to worry, that something bad might happen if you aren’t worrying about the things that seem important.
Let’s look at some ways to process, manage and reflect on your worries, and reduce the impact that anxiety has on your life.
Keep a journal
A journal doesn’t have to be complex, it can just be a notebook where you download all your thoughts, feelings and worries. Creating a habit of journaling daily can reduce anxiety and relieve stress. You might want to do this each morning to let go of the worries before you start your day, or set aside time in the evening to let go of anything that has come up during the day.
Set aside a time to worry
When you are caught up in a cycle of worrying, rather than tell yourself to stop worrying you can decide to postpone your worry for later.
Rather than dismissing the worry entirely, you are acknowledging it, then putting it aside for later.
Have a designated worry time each day, but what you will often find is that by the time that ‘worry hour’ comes around, the problem has been resolved or the worry doesn’t seem so important anymore.
Create a worry tree
You can draw this out on paper, or simply ask yourself the questions. Start at the top of the tree, asking:
- What am I worrying about?
- Is this is a current problem or a hypothetical situation?
- Is there anything I can do about this?
If no, then let the worry go, or postpone the worry until later, and choose something else to focus on.
If yes, then decide what action to take, do it or specify a time to do it later. Then let the worry go and choose something else to focus on.
Practice breathing exercises
Get used to focusing on your breathing and slowing it down. When you feel that anxiety is taking over, focus on your breath and slowly count as you breathe in and out. There are several variations of this, but it can be as simple as slowly counting to five as you breathe in, and again as you breathe out.
Go for a walk or even just sit quietly outside for a short time, focusing on your surroundings. Give yourself space to think clearly, and either work explore the anxiety and work through it, or decide to let it go.
Look after your physical and mental health
Having a healthy body and mind will help you to manage your anxiety. Eat well, exercise, rest and get good quality sleep.
Connect with others and do the things you enjoy. Consider practising mindfulness, and working on your personal development.
If you find your anxiety too much to cope with, then visit your doctor or contact one of the mental health charities, such as Mind, to get professional support.