4 Tips for Dealing with Anxiety So It Doesn’t Take Over Your Life

If anxiety is a regular presence in your life, it may be time to develop some coping strategies.

Anxiety attack, calm, smiling mature woman relaxes on her couchphoto credit: shutterstock

There’s no denying that we live in anxious times

Whether you’re worrying about how your kids are doing at school, the state of the environment, or losing your job in an uncertain economy, our hectic lives give us ample opportunity to fret about the future. Though anxiety is a relatively normal reaction to stress, if it’s an anxiety attack creeps into your life regularly, it may be time to develop some coping strategies.

How meditation can help you deal with an anxiety attack

Since anxious thoughts are often tied to fretting about the future, one of the easiest and most immediate ways to keep them in check is to focus on the present instead. A few minutes of quiet meditation can help you whisk away your worries and allow you to get some perspective on them. “The breath and the mind are connected,” explains Michael Munro, a yoga and meditation instructor as well as co-owner of Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio in Halifax. “Stopping your activities and focusing on your breath naturally allows the mind to settle.” He compares the phenomenon to a glass of juice with lots of pulp: if you stir the juice, it gets cloudy, just like an anxious mind. But if you let it sit, the pulp settles and the liquid becomes much clearer.

If anxiety is a recurring problem, then developing a regular meditation practice may help you manage it. Sit comfortably for a few minutes a day, at a time when you know you won’t be interrupted and focus your attention on your breath. The awareness of your breathing alone can help you slow down your heart rate and get your body out of panic-mode. If you don’t have time for dedicated sitting, then try adding moments of mindfulness to your day by paying careful attention to what you’re doing in the moment, rather than letting your mind race ahead into an uncertain future. If you’re going for a walk, for example, concentrate on how the pavement feels under your feet. When you’re washing dishes, be conscious of the feel of the water and the smell of the soap, rather than thinking about your to-do list. It will all help to rein in your worried mind.

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Manage anxiety by managing your thoughts

Ultimately, learning to control your own thoughts and internal dialogue will help you combat recurring anxiety. “Anxiety usually stems from thoughts or perception about something,” says psychologist (candidate register) Chimène Jewer. She recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a way of learning to modify negative thoughts. “People have dysfunctional thoughts about what they’re afraid of,” says Jewer, “and what happens is that the higher brain centres tell the lower brain centres to go into panic, eliciting a fight or flight response.” Part of CBT is learning how to look at your thoughts more objectively so they stop controlling you. Jewer says the technique also encourages gradual exposure to that which is causing the anxiety. “And that,” says Jewer, “helps people realize that it’s usually not worth being afraid of!”

Jewer also recommends learning basic relaxation techniques as a means of dealing with anxiety, including progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in sequence. “It makes you realize what your body feels like when it’s tense, and then what it feels like when it’s relaxed,” says Jewer.

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Relieve anxiety with yoga

Munro also stresses the importance of connecting with your body when you’re feel unsettled or as though an anxiety attack might be coming on. He recommends yoga as a way to integrate movement with mindfulness. “Exercise stabilizes hormones in the body,” says Munro, who has been teaching yoga for over 10 years. Though movement of any kind is beneficial for anxiety sufferers, yoga’s contemplative focus and less goal-oriented approach can be particularly helpful in calming a worried mind. “We’ve had lots of people with anxiety report that it has helped turn things around for them,” says Munro.

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Have a stress-management plan

Finally, limiting stress is the key to dealing with an anxiety attack. It’s vitally important to make some time in every day for yourself, even if it’s just for a few minutes of dancing in your living room, tending to your garden, or soaking in a scented bath — anything that will take your mind off your worries. You’ll feel back in control in no time!

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