Anxiety and what you can do about it

anxiety mental health Jul 06, 2020

For many of you, there will have been a time in your life where you felt anxious. From butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, a fast heart rate, increased breathing and a possible feeling of doom, you probably recognise some, if not all of these symptoms. 

Anxiety as a subject, however, is very complex with numerous categories, sub-classifications, diagnoses and experiences. It may surprise many of you that there is a difference between anxiety as a symptom versus an actual anxiety disorder. So what’s that difference?

Anxiety as a symptom is a normal reaction to stress. For some it can be quite motivating, while for others it can be disabling. On the other hand, an anxiety disorder tends to be more prolonged, out of context with the current stress, impairs many aspects of your life and can alter your ability to think straight.

So it is vital to continue with the discussion clarifying that this conversation is focused to the sensation of anxiety and not an anxiety disorders. For those of you with a diagnosed anxiety disorder it may still be possible to apply many or even all of the following principles but as always, be gentle with yourselves and if in doubt ask a professional.

The first thing to understand is that not only is anxiety extremely common, it can be totally normal. Anxiety may be caused by a whole host of factors including unhappiness, uncertainty, fear or even a medical condition but for the overloaded office workers a significant catalyst is stress. When we are faced with a stressful situation that we perceive is outside of our control we can begin the process of feeling anxious. This is when the stress traffic lights turn on.

Imagine that you have a set of traffic lights which are there for the sole purpose of measuring anxiety. In ideal circumstances, these traffic lights would be turned off however, like in the town centres of a busy high street, in times of congestion the traffic lights turn on.

Small amounts of controlled anxiety would be represented by a green traffic light showing up. At this stage, you could recognise that you are feeling a little under pressure, have a little bit more work than planned and noticed small amount of butterflies in the stomach. For the most part though, you are okay.
Then we get a tighter deadlines and this increased workload, in combination with stress at home, turn our green traffic lights to amber. At this stage, we start to notice a slight decrease in appetite, irritability, worsening sleep and a slight sense of overwhelm including, panic.

A red traffic light is the most significant of all. In this circumstance, the anxiety has reached a level that would be considered slightly out of our control. In this situation you may notice sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, complete loss of appetite and a whole host of other symptoms. When this traffic light shows up, we may need some external medical help.

Five steps to reducing anxiety

1) The attitude of gratitude - Every day find two or three things that have gone your way. It doesn’t have to be the winning lottery numbers (although that might decrease anxiety), it could just be good weather all the way to enjoying your lunch, just look for things that you are grateful for.

2) 5 minutes to mindfulness - The daily practice of mindfulness, whether it be in meditation or even while eating, focuses the mind and inhibits the amygdala (fear response centre). So create a small amount of time in your day for mindfulness and it will liberate huge dividends later on.

3) Work/Life daily planner - By focusing your day with specific tasks and desired outcomes you can create laser-focus in your day and keep yourself on point. This prevents the mind wandering and inhibits sensations of anxiety.

4) Anxiety partner - Most anxious people either respond to partnering up with a peer who, like them, also suffers with anxiety or conversely partnering up with a relaxation partner; one who can calm them down in times of need. If you have an anxiety partner, an anxious person can feel that their experience is normal. On the other hand, if you have a relaxation partner, the anxious party can learn to experience an alternative way to be.

5) Walk well - In times of anxiety gentle exercise and especially walking, can be really useful. Research shows that exercise directly focuses our brain in a way to minimise anxiety. However, because in some individuals an elevated heart rate can bring on sensations of anxiety walking, rather than intense exercise is often a good choice to get yourself moving.

So the next time your butterflies start to fly, and the palms feel sweatier and colder, remember the five steps to control anxiety and work to switch those stress traffic lights OFF!

Author: Dr Adam Greenfield, Co-founder of WorkLifeWell | Chiropractor | Wellness Specialist

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