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  • Writer's pictureStephen Harvey

Three Tips for Managing Anxiety

Anxiety can come in many shapes and sizes. For instance, when I was in high school, I started competing in triathlons. I loved how each race combined swimming, biking and running — it was a huge accomplishment to just finish one! However, in the beginning of my triathlon career, the swim was usually the most daunting portion of the race for me because it was common for the course to be in the open water, which means I could be swimming with sharks, jellyfish and gators (oh my!). Looking back, it is easy for me to trace this over anxiousness to movies like “Jaws” or “Lake Placid”. Realistically, being attacked by an aquatic animal certainly could happen, but the likelihood of this type of impending doom was pretty slim because race directors prioritized the safety of the participants. Eventually, I was able to overcome this anxiety by challenging my thoughts and continuous experience as a racer. This is just one situation of how I have confronted anxiety in my personal life. So what exactly is anxiety and how do we properly manage it?

Anxiety, like all of our emotions, is part of our body's feedback system for our surroundings. For example, anxiety, which is a subcategory of fear, has a lot to do with personal safety and preservation. When we feel fear towards animals, the dark, harsh climates, and other dangers it is our body’s way of saying “look out!” If you have ever heard the phrase “fight or flight”, this is the same kind of reaction. And while fear is caused by clear and present danger, anxiety is often the feeling of fear with the absence of a present threat.

It is important to remember that some anxiety is a normal feeling for people, and can even be a motivator to get something done.

However, not all anxiety is necessarily an adverse phenomenon. I think it is important to remember that some anxiety is a normal feeling for people, and can even be a motivator to get something done. If you are anxious about a test, then this could be a motivator to study, and increase your probability of receiving a better score. However, anxiety can become debilitating for individuals by becoming overwhelmingly intense, excessive and chronic. The good news is that although anxiety is pervasive in our society, especially with the past year of COVID 19, it is also highly treatable.

So, what are some effective ways to handle our anxiety when it becomes out of control? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but today we can look at a few ways to de-escalate, or calm, the extremes of anxiety.

How often do you stop to check your breath? Chances are, you are breathing through the chest, also known as shallow breathing, instead of the deep-diaphragmatic breathing often associated with yoga classes. The next time you feel tense and on edge, consider taking a moment to collect yourself by breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding that breath for 2 seconds, then exhaling out of your mouth slowly for about 7 seconds. This type of breathing pattern can relieve bodily tension and soothe the mind.

Second, physical activity is a great way to combat anxiety. Our bodies have mood stabilizing hormones that are naturally released when we do moderate physical activities, like running, swimming, lifting weights, fitness classes, or walking. Moving your body at least three times a week could help alleviate some of the anxiety that builds up throughout your days. If you’re an extrovert, or looking for ways to spend more time with friends, doing these together can be a great way to allow relationships to boost your mood, too!

Lastly, sometimes our thoughts can lead to anxiety, so taking time to ground yourself by writing out your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations could be helpful in overcoming the “on edge” feeling. Plus, by listing out these items, you will get immediate feedback from your body and a better sense of control of yourself in the moment. Grounding can also be done by using the “5-4-3-2-1 method”. Here, you will list out 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. The objective of grounding is to gain greater control over your body and thoughts in the present moment. Hopefully, by using one or all of these techniques, you can find some respite from anxiety.

In conclusion, anxiety does have its place in our lives, and it is normal and healthy in our day-to-day existence. The key is being able to distinguish between the ordinary levels of anxiety with the anxiety that causes us extreme bodily reactions, panic attacks, excessive worry, avoidance or chronic stress. When the anxiety becomes debilitating or overwhelming, to the point where it is interfering with our quality of life, then it may be time to use some of the suggestions I provided or seek out a therapist to work through the thoughts, behaviors and core conflicts.

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