How can you successfully cope with intense anxiety? Look at the following symptoms of severe stress. The symptoms can be severely debilitating. It can interfere with your daily functioning and general well-being.
Understandably it is uncomfortable and scary to experience these symptoms. When your body’s response becomes overwhelming, it can disrupt your life. It becomes difficult to cope with daily responsibilities.
Cornerstones of intense anxiety
These are the pillars upon which anxiety is built. The three cornerstones of anxiety are the following:
- Ruminating thoughts and excessive worry
- Intense and overwhelming emotions and physical sensations
- Flight or fight behaviour
When you want to cope successfully with intense anxiety, you must address all three aspects. The earlier you stop the anxiety cycle, the easier it becomes. When you look at the figure, you can see the three possible stop points.
We will now discuss ways to stop at each.
A: Stop ruminating thoughts
Since anxiety is mostly a product of negative ruminating thoughts, that is the best place to start. The National Science Foundation did research that showed that about 80% of all our thoughts are negative. It is not easy to calm down the constant flow of more than 50 thoughts that run through your brain every minute. If 40 of them are negative, it becomes even more challenging. Helplessness can be an incapacitating experience. You need to find the measures that will help you to cope with the overload of intense anxiety.
- To cope with this intense anxiety you can try to distract yourself. You can count backwards from 150 in three’s or sing a well-known song out loud. A funny video clip can be a valuable distraction.
- Find a mantra like “I can and will do this” or “I am strong and capable”. You can repeat, “I am a courageous woman” (Read this article to realise why you are indeed courageous.)
- Plan and take action to address the problem. A simple to-do list breaks the problem into manageable steps. You can then mark everything that you finished. Taking control will help to alleviate your anxiety.
- Write down your thoughts. You must do it freely and in your own handwriting. It is best not to censor your writing. The mere act of expressing your thoughts helps to slow them down. It may also give you a new perspective on the problem.
- Question the accuracy of your thoughts. Go back to the things that you wrote down and question the truth of each. Negative thoughts are mostly not true. Words like “never” and “nobody” indicates false statements. Look for the exceptions to those declarations.
- Talk to a friend about your problem. It will create distance between you and the situation and help you think clearly. The support of a friend may encourage you to take the needed steps.
- Practice mindful living or meditation. Anxiety is the result of excessive worry about the future. Conscious living and meditation anchor you in the present. You can only change things in the present. Therefore, you must stay in the present. Instead of saying “What if …”, ask yourself: “What can I do now …”.
- Write down your triggers. Specific thoughts act as triggers to kick off your anxiety cycle. When you know what they are, it is easier to be prepared and manage your anxiety.
B: Cope with intense anxiety by calming your feelings
When you are anxious, your whole body becomes uptight. Perhaps you can remember how you felt before a maths exam or when you sat in the dentist chair? Your heart beats faster, and your hands are sweaty. During severe anxiety, these symptoms are more acute and unpleasant.
- The best way to slow down your heartbeat and calm yourself is by using breathing exercises. Sit or lay down and close your eyes. Use the 4-2-6 breathing method. Slowly breath in through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for two counts, exhale through your lips for 6 slow counts.
- Visualisation exercises may also help you. Visualise a place where you are safe and relaxed. Imagine that you are on the beach, and you feel the sun’s warmth relaxing your muscles. Or think of a time when you were totally relaxed and happy. When you lose focus, bring your thoughts back to that place or feeling.
- Listen to calming meditation music. Music not only calms the mind but can also calm your heartbeat. The best genres to try are soft pop and classical music. There are numerous songs on YouTube. Find the ones that work for you.
C: Calm restlessness and activity
Feeling anxious may make you restless and agitated. When this happens, you can try exercise to calm your body down. The movement of your body helps to get rid of nervous energy. This will help you to cope with intense anxiety.
- Take a long walk outside and focus on the beauty of the environment. Focussing away from yourself is a powerful way of calming down.
- Clean a cupboard. Organising something is also calming. If you can take control of your wardrobe, you can also take control of other things.
- Water your garden and do it barefoot. Water always has a calming, relaxing effect. Doing it barefoot will anchor you in the now and help you to connect to nature.
- Practice a hobby. Hobbies keep your mind and body busy. There are many possibilities. You can bake, draw, colour in, try mosaic, do pottery, garden, crochet, and many more. Apart from the calming effect, you will also have a product that you can be proud of.
- Use your stress ball. When you repeatedly squeeze the ball, it will alleviate tension and reduce anxiety.
- Use alternatives like yoga, hypnosis, or aromatherapy. It will help you relax your body and your mind.
Anxiety is part of normal functioning. However, when the panic and anxiety impair your daily functioning, it may be time to visit a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists and psychologists can aid with medication and therapy. Specific therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are highly successful in treating debilitating panic and anxiety.
The covid pandemic resulted in an increase of anxiety disorders globally. It is possible to cope with intense anxiety. Anxiety can be successfully managed if you use the appropriate tools.
Do you know someone who will benefit from the tools that we shared? If you do, please share, and help that person.