Anxiety got you down? Here's 10 tips to manage stress and worry.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines anxiety as, 'an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future.' Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time, but it can become a problem when these feelings begin to affect a person's day to day functioning. Dealing with regular anxiety can be extremely difficult and debilitating and can leave you feeling powerless to control it. The good news is there are different techniques you can employ to help keep your anxiety in check. Some work better than others depending on your type and level of anxiety, and a combination of techniques is particularly helpful. Why not try out some of the tips below and see what works best for you?

1. Exercise

If you've read up on anxiety before you probably already know that exercising can be helpful in managing it. PsychCentral explains the science behind this in that 'exercise reduces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol...Moderate exercise raises core body temperature, which is accompanied by a simultaneous reduction in muscle tension, thereby affecting the experience of anxiety.' Personally, I find it hard to worry when I'm working out as it makes for an excellent distraction if nothing else!

2. Focus on your breath

Here is an easy technique to calm your anxiety that only takes a few minutes:

  • Breath in through your nose from as deep down in your belly as comfortable
  • Breathe out slowly through your mouth
  • Begin counting to five with every in breath and five again with every out breath, slowly and gently
  • Keep doing this for 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Yoga

Why not combine steps 1 and 2 by taking up yoga? It is an excellent activity for those dealing with stress or worry as it combines both exercise and breathing techniques. Solace Yoga Dublin describes how yogic breathing helps to quieten thoughts and facilitates mindfulness. Yoga and pilates are very popular these days and there are classes all over Dublin and further afield. Meetup.com is a good place to look for free yoga classes, ideal for testing the waters to see if yoga is for you. Alternatively the internet is a wealth of knowledge for doing yoga from the comfort of your own home. 

4. Diet

B Vitamins are important for healthy mind and body and some studies link a deficiency with anxiety and mood. Your GP can do a blood test to check your levels of B Vitamins and there are a number of B supplements out there that you can incorporate to get your levels back up if they are dipping. Good sources of B vitamins in your diet include beef, pork, chicken, leafy greens, legumes, citrus fruits, nuts, rice and eggs.

Another diet tip for the anxious? Watch your caffeine intake! Lack of sleep won't help your anxiety so why not drink less caffeine and/or limit yourself to a morning cup. Herbal teas such as camomile tea can make for a soothing and relaxing alternative.

5. Postpone worry

Worrying first thing in the morning? And then all through the day? Trying to forget about your worries altogether is way too big a step for many people. This is where the technique of postponing your worry can come in handy, as it allows you to manage your worry by taking a much smaller step. Here's what you do:

Step 1. Mentally decide to focus your attention on your worries.

Step 2. Choose a specific time later on in the day to return your focus to these worries.

Step 3. When you get close to your specific time, either choose to start worrying or choose to postpone your worries to a later time again. Any time it's possible, choose to postpone.

Basically this technique helps as it allows you to keep the idea that you will worry, without you having to instantly worry every time it beckons you. This can be quite freeing and empowering.

6. Distract your racing thoughts at night

Many people try to switch off at night in bed and find that they simply cannot quiet the worries and thoughts in their mind. Nighttime can be very stressful for many anxious over-thinkers. This is where falling asleep listening to a podcast, the radio or a guided meditation can help. Everyone's nighttime routine is different and this technique may work better for some than others but in my experience for those that it helps, it REALLY helps. Not into audio stimulation at night? Why not commit to reading until you're really ready to nod off. Distraction is key!

7. Challenge negative thoughts

Anxious people often fall into the trap of 'catastrophising' or jumping to the conclusion that situations and events are going to end up as a worst case scenario. An example of this could be if you had a party coming up where you only know the host and it was causing you excessive worry. Whereas anyone might be a bit anxious about being in a social setting where they don't know many people, a catastrophiser might convince themselves that the party was going to be a disaster and they would be standing awkwardly and alone all night. 

When you find yourself thinking in 'worst case scenario' terms, challenge yourself and your negative thoughts. What other outcomes might there be to attending this party? Is there a chance you might get talking to someone? Could you ask the host to introduce you to their friends when you get there? What about the possibility that it might be a little awkward for a minute or two to start but that could pass? There are numerous outcomes to every anxiety provoking situation we put ourselves in, it's just a matter of acknowledging your negative thinking patterns and challenging yourself to think of other more positive options.

8. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Yes, this is the title of a popular self help book, but, in a nutshell, if there is something you would like to do or not be afraid of anymore, do it. If you were deathly afraid of dogs and had to pet a dog once a day for a month, chances are your fear of the situation would be considerably less on day 30 than it was on day 1. So you 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. This can also be done in baby steps by easing yourself in to a situation that makes you nervous. Fearful of public speaking? You could start by presenting in front of a close friend or family member. Do this as often as it takes until you are no longer that nervous presenting for them. Then take another step and present for a few friends in a room, and so on and so on until you are much closer to getting up on stage in front of a larger group.

9. Positive affirmations

When anxiety takes hold, you can begin to see the world through a negative lens. It is important to acknowledge this and train yourself to notice when you are thinking negatively. Why not reframe negative thoughts in a more positive light. For example, 'I broke out yesterday and everyone will be staring at my acne today' could be reframed as, 'Yes, I have acne on my face but I doubt others will be as focussed on it as me. And anyways, my hair looks great today.' Be kind to yourself. You deserve compliments and positivity in your life! Why not make a list of things you like about yourself in a journal? Or how about a list of things you are thankful for? 

10. Don't be afraid to seek support

Anxiety comes in all shapes and forms and can vary in severity. If you have been struggling with it for some time now and things aren't getting any better, don't be afraid to reach out to a psychotherapist, counsellor or GP. A trained professional can support you during your difficult time and provide some guidance when it is needed most. Dealing with anxiety on your own can be overwhelming so make some time to reach out to family members and close friends for support. As I've said before, a problem shared is a problem halved.