She feels her heart racing. Her breathing is shallow, quickening as she sits in discomfort. She sits on the couch, a lump growing in her throat. A million thoughts are running through her head. She can’t pin one down; it’s like looking through a car window while driving on the highway, life speeding by. These aren’t new feelings. Her worries build up and up until they burst through like a shaken coke bottle. Even the little things cause this reaction – the things she can’t control, the things that haven’t happened yet, the things that don’t make sense. She feels a constant pressure. She can’t stop thinking. Can’t get anything done. Can’t relax.
This is anxiety.
Anxiety can be described as intense worry. Some forms of worry and stress are normal, and can even be helpful. But if those worries continue for a longer than a few days, or interfere with your daily life, it could be considered a more severe form of anxiety.
There are many physical reactions that a person can experience with anxiety as well as the mental and emotional stress. Some of the symptoms might be:
- Fast heart rate, heart palpitations;
- Shortness of breath,;
- Nausea and/or vomiting;
- Shaking or trembling;
- Hot flashes and sweating, or chills;
- Problems falling or staying asleep;
- Inability to concentrate.
Someone struggling with anxiety is put into a flight or fight mode – a physical response our body uses when it thinks there is a threat. These flight or fight responses are intended to keep us safe and in survival mode, but the responses are not always proportionate to the reality of what’s going on. When our body is reacting in this way, we are not as able to have clear, rational thoughts. This may cause us to put greater significance on our fears and concerns than is needed.
Anxiety can feel debilitating and scary but it can be managed.
Above all, do not judge yourself for the emotions that you feel. Your emotions are always valid. Approach your feelings and yourself with kindness and acceptance.
Many people keep a worry journal to manage anxiety. As thoughts and worries come up throughout your day, write them down in the journal and set it aside. Then dedicate a set amount of time at the same time each day and allow yourself to worry about the things you’ve written down and any other thoughts that may come up. Writing your concerns down helps to release them and give them less power. When you start to become anxious about a thought, tell yourself that you can’t spend time worrying about it until the time you’ve set aside.
Mindfulness is another tool to use when anxiety creeps up. Anxiety often entails worries about the future, things you can’t control, or things that have yet happened. Being in the moment can help to bring you back to the present and ground you. Use your senses to help get grounded – what can you see? What can you smell, what can you hear? Breathe slowly, deeply, and with intention.
Anxiety can be stressful and scary in the moment especially when thoughts and feelings are about the future and situations out of your control. With these and other strategies, or with guided help, anxieties can be managed and worries can be more bearable.
Watch Annemarie Rued-Fraser talk about anxiety and ways to manage it.