So you've realised your life is being affected by anxiety? The good news is there are lots of ways to tackle it, from therapy to self-help steps – so you really can feel better, and learn to lead a full life. This may sound a lot of steps, but you’ll probably find most are simple to put into place – and even enjoyable.
Everyone feels anxious at times but if you have an anxiety disorder, it can really get in the way of day-to-day living. You may be constantly preoccupied with worrying thoughts and may find it difficult to think about anything else. It’s likely to have an effect on your overall wellbeing – you might have trouble sleeping and eating, you may drink more than usual and may be snappy, sad and/or distracted (find out more about anxiety symptoms here. The big message is: don’t suffer in silence. You don’t need to put up with feeling like this. These steps will all help put you on the path to freedom from anxiety.
1.Pinpoint the problem
It may sound strange but the first key step in addressing anxiety is understanding what the issue is. A lot of people with anxiety don’t realise they’re anxious – they believe what their minds tell them. You may believe the world really is a dangerous place, for example, or that you really do have an untreatable illness, or that flying or driving is very high-risk. Whatever the source of your anxiety, you’re so caught up in it you don’t question it. Allowing yourself to start thinking, ‘This may not actually be true. I might be having these thoughts simply because I’m anxious’ can be the first chink of light.
2.Talk about your feelings
Try opening up to someone about your anxiety. Whether it’s a friend, a colleague, a family member or your partner, it can be really helpful to have someone supportive on your side, so they understand what you’re going through and can help you look after yourself.
3.Work it out
Exercise is one of the most important self-help steps for anxiety. The reason? It helps your body deal with stress chemicals and can be very calming. Whether it’s running, swimming, dancing, weight training or yoga, find something you enjoy and can stick at and make the time to do it regularly – at least three times a week is ideal – and if possible, try to be active in some way most days. Even walking can be very effective, particularly in nature – time in green and blue (near water) spaces has been shown to help dissolve stress and anxiety.
Soothing breathing exercises and meditation can seriously help calm you. Sometimes it’s difficult to get going with these practices if you’re feeling very tense – you may find your mind keeps wandering to your anxious thoughts. But persevere if you can. Find a class, a mindfulness meditation app or guided exercises online.
5. Have an absorbing hobby
We’re talking pleasurable activities that require focus – such as baking, gardening and pottery, for example. These all count as ‘mindful’ activities, meaning you get caught up in the present moment while you’re engaged in them. Any form of mindfulness is very beneficial for anxiety and for some people, an enjoyable mindful activity is easier than meditating.
6.Try alternative help
Herbal remedies that have been used traditionally to help with anxiety include valerian, avena sativa and St John’s wort. You could also try diffusing soothing essential oils such as lavender and melissa. Always check with a practitioner, your pharmacist or doctor before trying complementary medicines, particularly if you have a long-term condition or are taking any other medicines.
When it comes to anxiety, what’s key is a balanced diet. Focus on having a spread of different coloured fruit and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, some oily fish (or take an algal omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat fish), nuts and seeds. Avoid having too much sugar, alcohol and caffeine, all of which can worsen anxiety.
8.Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep is likely to aggravate your anxiety, leaving you ‘wired’ and jittery, whereas getting enough will really support you to deal with it. Take time to unwind before bed, perhaps having a warm bath, listening to the radio, reading, writing a gratitude list and doing some gentle stretches. All these can put you in the right space for good sleep. Make sure your room’s cool, dark and quiet, and try to get to bed early.
9.See your doctor
This is particularly important if you’re really struggling with anxiety, your sleep’s affected or you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time. Your doctor can refer you for a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) , which has been shown to be very effective for anxiety. There may be a waiting list for this so it’s a good idea to get help as soon as you can. Sometimes, your doctor might prescribe medication, particularly if your anxiety is severe. It’s not always easy to talk about mental health issues with a doctor but anxiety is very common and they really will have heard it all before.