From time to time we all worry. It’s natural, and in fact developed as a protective mechanism to prevent our predecessors being eaten by larger predators. Worry, at its most basic level, is due to fear. When our bodies sense danger we are flooded with a hormone called adrenalin. This prepares us for “fight or flight” – blood is pumped away from the stomach and brain to the extremities so that our muscles have enough fuel to run away from danger or to fight it off. The lowered amount of blood being directed to the brain means we “can’t think straight”, and some people even experience “tunnel vision”. Adrenalin also accounts for the upset stomach feelings and nausea, as well as being quick to respond aggressively to a perceived danger.
All well and good when we were hunter gatherers being hunted by large carnivores. Less useful in a pressured work office where you are trying to keep your cool.
Unfortunately, the world around us has changed at a rate faster than the human body can evolve, and for people who suffer from anxiety, everyday situations can trigger that adrenalin surge which is tiring and really doesn’t actually help us, because it fogs our thinking.
In one way worrying about a certain issue can help us focus on the problem at hand, find a solution and move on. But often worrying can turn into a very negative cycle where no solution seems right, and we feel like we can’t see the wood for the trees. Worrying can stop us sleeping, make us question the things we do, in turn lowering self esteem, reduce our ability to concentrate, and makes us feel emotionally drained.
So what can we do? Telling yourself to just “Stop Worrying” is very unlikely to work, because the nature of anxiety is one of ever increasing cycles of rumination and worry. But you can also think of this pattern of thinking as a habit – habits can be broken by repeating alternative patterns until the new pattern becomes your habit.
Simple measures such as actually recognising what it is that is causing you to feel afraid in the first place and trying to deal with that fear itself can help. Often people can do this easily, but if the solution isn’t so easy then it might be worth talking it through with a friend or colleague you can trust – they say two heads are better than one! If you are religious, it may help to speak with your religious leader.
Often writing down what you are actually worried about can help you focus on whether the problem requires so much attention or not – it can often become apparent when seeing an issue in black and white that it’s a small issue which has gotten out of control. Often just realising this can in effect invalidate and get rid of the worry, but if it stays fixed, then also try to look at the evidence supporting or not supporting your worrying thought – this can often help you to come up with a more balanced way of thinking.
If your worry is related to a particular task, often breaking it down into less huge chunks and coming up with a plan of when to complete each smaller task can help.
Some people also find allocating a certain amount of time to worrying helps them limit things too. Likewise, if worrying keeps you awake at night, jot the things on your mind down in a notebook – they’ll still be there in the morning, and you can deal with them better after a decent sleep.
Distraction is also a good tool in the fight against worry. Getting yourself to move physically away from the place you are worrying by going for a walk or focussing on another task, reading a book, speaking to a friend on the phone are all helpful. If you find yourself really ruminating and can’t seem to shift your thinking, try picking an object in the room and describing it in minute detail to yourself – you can even write it down, and this may help you distract yourself.
After all is said and done though, there may be people who need extra help – speaking to a sympathetic GP about how to manage anxiety can be helpful – most will recommend either counselling services, medication or both. Decide what you feel comfortable with. There are also lots of online resources on websites such as MIND and No Panic.
Whatever you’re trying though, remember changes take time – there is unfortunately no magic quick fix for anxiety, and this can be frustrating in itself – seeing the changes and feeling more positive eventually, will make it all worth it though.
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