Remember when you were a child and you were convinced that there was an evil monster under your bed? That intense feeling that something bad is going to happen and your life is not safe? Increased heart beat, perspiration and a weak feeling in your tummy? The desire to run or hide, but at the same time frozen? The inability to say anything, as if your throat is blocked? It felt so real then but now you know better.
However, we still experience feelings of anxiety from time to time even though we’ve grown up. This is completely normal and a healthy response in any threatening situation. It’s a primary protection mechanism that we all need as human beings in order to survive. A sense of fear activates our fight-or-flight response and makes us stronger, more alert and faster in any situation. We needed it when we were attacked by wild animals in prehistory and nowadays when we want to cross a very busy street with a lot of traffic. If we didn’t have any anxiety we would be killed by a wild bear then or by a car now. So to a certain level anxiety is very good. It’s just human to feel nervous before an important meeting, speaking in public or to worry about others.
It becomes a problem when you feel you can’t control your anxious feelings anymore and fear is taking over your life, when the monsters under the bed are popping up in every situation, day and night, haunting you as demons preventing you from happiness and joy.
Ten tips to manage your anxiety in daily life:
- Take a time out. Whenever you feel anxiety coming up, step out of the situation where you are at that moment. Go for a walk outside, take something to drink or go to the toilet. Do something that will physically calm you down. Connect with this present moment. This way we learn that we are not our anxiety and that it’s just an emotion that comes and goes. We have the choice to step back and not go into the emotion.
- Exercise every day. Research has shown that regular exercise relieves symptoms of everyday anxiety, by improving feelings of well-being. “Feel good” hormones are being produced while exercising and at the same time it’s a perfect outlet for releasing built-up tension and stress in the body that comes with anxiety.
- Nourish yourself in a healthy way. Eliminate any anxiety-induced food and drinks from your daily diet. It is proven that caffeine, sugar and alcohol stimulate feelings of anxiety. Instead chose fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains for long term energy, fitness and inner strength.
- Get enough sleep. Anxiety causes huge amount of stress levels in the body that take a lot of energy. In order to prevent exhaustion, make sure you get enough sleep. If possible switch off your electronic devices before you drift off, so that they can’t disturb you.
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Anxiety is directly related to the breath. Whenever fear is coming up, there is shallow breathing in the chest, but no deep breathing in the diaphragm or lower in the belly. Through deep breathing exercises, we can calm down the nervous system and a lot of anxiety can be released from the body.
- Focus on positive things. Anxiety makes us see the world in a negative way, bringing up bad thoughts and worst-case scenarios. Start thinking positively. Make a list of all the things for which you are grateful in your life. Spend time with positive people. Reduce the amount of negative influences from television and the internet. Instead take a walk in beautiful nature or visualize a happy place.
- Ask for help. Get support from others. Share whenever you feel overwhelmed and let them know how to help you. Anxiety can make you feel separated from others and lonely, which can be reduced by being in connection with others. Common humor and laughing together is another great stress release. Reach out for professional help if needed.
- Meditate and do yoga. These are great stress reduction techniques in themselves and also help you to improve your ability to deal with anxiety. They put your body in a more relaxed state and calm your mind. By breathing through the fear, just by being with it without distraction in a meditation posture or yoga pose, you help the mind cope with it and that takes the fear of the fear away.
- Work on acceptance and compassion. Don’t try to be perfect. You are totally okay just the way you are. Accept the things you cannot change and focus on the things you can. Anxiety has a lot to do with control. If we feel we’re losing control, anxiety comes up. Therefore focus on the things you can control and let go of the rest. Approach yourself and the world around you in a mindful way without judgment.
- Find meaning in your life. Identify your life’s purpose, your “why”. Do something for someone else without getting something in return. Volunteer or give back to the community. Make a happy bucket list and start to do one thing every day that gives you a good feeling. Challenge yourself and find reward in doing little things that may be slightly out of your comfort zone.
And remember, by facing our fears, we become fearless. Avoid the avoidance, as it will only make it worse. Invite the monsters under the bed to come out and take a good look at them. Are they really so scary? Only by becoming friends with the monsters, by embracing our demons, can we become whole again, which is the ultimate perfectness in itself.