If you’ve noticed that you’re more anxious recently, then you are not alone. The last three years have seen a global rise in anxiety and anxiety disorders, and this is hardly surprising. Our daily life has been infused with uncertainty, with the fallout of the pandemic, war in Europe, cost of living crisis and ongoing environmental issues all placing an endless strain on our resilience and resources.
For many, anxiety has begun to play a larger role in their lives. The emotional side of anxiety – feelings of fear, sadness, frustration and isolation amongst others – increasingly shape our decisions, thought processes and emotional responses. And the impact is not only personal, as it can spill over into our professional lives, affecting our ability to focus and work effectively. The added pressure of struggling to meet our professional responsibilities can feed into and exacerbate the anxiety.
It is imperative, for our own mental wellbeing and for our ability to engage professionally, to find effective ways to reduce anxiety. But this can be both daunting and challenging. When we are anxious, our response is often to engage in a struggle with it, a struggle that includes various understandable but unsatisfactory responses such as distraction, suppression and denial. This struggle can leave us feeling exhausted and even make the anxiety worse.
Although it may seem counter intuitive, to manage anxiety, we have to get to know it better, to understand what it is trying to tell us. Psychologist Prof. Mark Williams argues that we must “befriend our anxiety”, seeing it not as the enemy to defeat, but something that wants attention, to be cared for. This approach can give us back a sense of agency and control in the face of the overwhelm that anxiety brings with it.
Managing anxiety can be challenging so getting professional support is a good step. Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy are all clinically proven ways of managing and reducing anxiety. With professional support we can discover how to relate differently to the emotions, sensations and thoughts that shape and sustain our anxiety. We can learn how to ride out the waves of anxiety rather than be pulled under by them, and over time we learn to develop the resilience we need to calm down more easily from anxiety.
These three tips can help you begin your journey of facing anxiety and flourishing.
1. Talk: Anxiety can make us feel isolated, creating the sort of social and behavioural retreat that deepens the experience of anxiety. Communicating about how you are feeling, particularly the emotions that are triggering the anxiety such as fear, anger, frustration, shame, guilt, confusion etc, can often help us to “contain” the anxiety more easily. If you have a friend or loved one who is a good listener, they could be a helpful person to talk to. Professional support is also really helpful – Try your organisation’s counselling support service.
2. Thoughts are not facts: Anxiety is often fuelled by negative thoughts like “catastrophising” or abusive self-talk – thoughts that can keep us locked into mental scenarios that serve only to make us feel worse. If we can take a mental step back and see our thoughts as just opinions rather than facts, it can help us be less caught up in the thought processes that sustain our anxiety. A professional can help you to understand how your thoughts might be triggering your anxiety, and teach you to relate to your thoughts in a less alarming way.
3. The breath is your ally: When anxiety strikes, we can feel overwhelmed. A simple tip to slow the “stress response” is to consciously focus full attention on the breath. Concentrate your breath on the area of your body where you feel the anxiety most intensely (eg chest, belly, shoulders) and for a few moments, purposely slow and deepen both the in breath and the out breath. Doing so stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, sending a “stand-down” signal to the alert centre of the brain!
Anxiety workshops, courses and sessions for your employees:
From Anxious to Calm workshop – 60 minute group workshop
Mindfulness for Anxiety workshop – 60 minute group workshop
Facing Anxiety and Flourishing course – 4 x 60 minute group course
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy course – 8 x 60 minute group course
Confidential One to One Counselling – Anxiety counselling with our specialist mental health therapists
Book us to run an anxiety workshop, course or session
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