Anxiety is common to us all. It surfaces when we are faced with uncertainty and when we find ourselves under real or perceived threat. Sure the psychological (distress, nervousness) and visceral/somatic effects of anxiety (sweaty palms, dry mouth, headaches etc.) may feel unbearable at times. Yet the brain’s (and the body’s) response to anxiety serves an important evolutionary purpose.
It is healthy and normal to feel anxious when there is real danger present. Worries about school, work, bills and health are all very real and may prompt you to feel anxious. It is when anxiety interferes with everyday functioning that it becomes unhealthy and maladaptive.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) vs. Normal worry
People with GAD have exaggerated worry and tension that interferes with everyday activities. Excessive worrying may last for 6 months and more. People with GAD may start to worry even in the absence of a trigger. Whereas everyday anxiety looks more like worrying about money, job performance and safety. Moreover, sleep problems, irritability, tense muscles, problems concentrating, fatigue or restlessness are associated with GAD.
It is always a good idea to seek a professional’s help when you find yourself stepping over the “everyday-worry” threshold and feel as though you cannot cope effectively with the stressful events in your life. On the flip side, here are three ways that you can use to cope with everyday anxiety:
Be good to yourself
Self-compassion is a crucial part of coping with anxious thoughts and feelings. Dr. Kristen Neff who is a leading expert on self-compassion explains it as such:
“Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now,’ how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
When you find yourself having a difficult time, recognize that what you are going through is hard and give yourself a little break by walking outside, having tea/or coffee, anything that will propel you toward self-love.
Mindfulness is the practice of choosing to stay in the moment with a curious and compassionate attitude towards whatever arises within yourself. When anxious thoughts and feelings arise, grow an awareness around them. Notice what emotions are rising without trying to fix anything. Then ask yourself: is there a real threat here? If there is, get yourself to somewhere safe, if there is not, realize that the emotions that are making you uncomfortable in the moment will eventually pass. Focus on the natural rise and fall of your breath until the anxious thoughts and feelings dissipate.
Improve emotional wellbeing with yoga
In 2015 researchers Michaela Pascoe (Sweden) and Isabelle Bauer (USA) conducted a meta-analysis about the effects of yoga on stress and mood. Their findings suggested that yoga indeed promotes positive affect. They also reported that yoga is associated with changes in blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol or cytokine levels (any of a number of substances which are secreted by certain cells of the immune system and have an effect on other cells).
To summarize, anxiety is a part of our lives and it is a healthy response the body and mind gives to stress. However by practicing self-compassion, mindfulness and trying out yoga, you will have put important tools to your psychological first aid kit.
- 1. Taylor, B. (2016). Why Do We Worry?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 1, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/why-do-we-worry/
- 2. Pascoe, C. M. & Bauer, E. I. (2015). A systematic review of randomised control trials on the effects of yoga on stress measures and mood. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 68, 270-282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.07.013
- 3. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/holistic-approach-anxiety
- 4. http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/
- 5. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-symptoms/