Anxiety seems to be an issue increasingly in our awareness. The UK Mental Health Foundation states that generalised anxiety disorder affects up to 5% of us and is responsible for 30% of the mental health issues that we see our GPs for. Milder, but still problematic forms of anxiety are likely to be more common. After all, we wouldn't have to search long in a group of our female friends and colleagues to find women who are worried or anxious.
As an anxiety expert it's easily the most common issue I see women for in my London hypnotherapy practice. Stats for YouGov reported that anxiety in women is much higher than in men. This could be for a number of reasons, from the way our brains are wired, to the way we're treated differently from boys from a young age.
The most prevalent form of anxiety is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and includes symptoms like chronic worrying, thinking the worst, a feeling of dread, problems with sleep, IBS, concentration issues and tension in the body. There might be times when everyone feels like this but if it's something that is affecting your life, it's important to do something about it rather than allowing it to hold you back.
Here, I've put together my top tips for helping you to overcome anxiety:
The art of distraction
Sometimes we can become almost catatonic with worry. It can take up all of our mental space (not to mention energy) and stop us from enjoying the moment. Since worries tend to be cyclical and are very rarely constructive, a good move is to try to distract your attention away from them. Call a friend, go for some exercise, listen to music or watch an engaging TV show or film to distract your attention away from unhelpful worrying.
Talk to someone
Anxiety can feel very isolating when you believe you're alone in what you're going through. But the truth is, anxiety is very common; you are definitely not alone. Open up to friends and loved ones about your thoughts and feelings. Often talking about things can help you to feel better right away and get you seeing things with a clearer perspective. Try checking out blogs or online forums to see what others are saying, what they've gone through and how they've made progress.
It's just adrenaline
This is a key point. Those horrible symptoms of anxiety; palpitations, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, are just brought on by adrenaline. It's the body's way of preparing us to fight, or run away. Although it can feel pretty nasty, this excess of adrenaline can't really hurt us. So next time you experience those weird feeling symptoms, remember, it's just adrenaline and the feeling will soon pass.
Reprogramme your subconscious
The subconscious mind is responsible for most of our thoughts and feelings. After all, you don't make a conscious decision to be worried or fearful about something! Get a free relaxation MP3 that will help you to reprogramme your subconscious mind to feel calmer - download mine by clicking here
and entering your details.
Your thoughts are not facts
Thoughts pop into our minds all the time and often, we're not really in control of the thoughts that we have. However, what we can control is how we respond to our thoughts. When we believe that every thought we have is true, we open ourselves up to a whole world of pain. If a thought pops up that 'you're not good enough' and you believe it, it can trigger a cascade of other negative thoughts and feelings around this. However if we recognise that our thoughts are not facts, we can find a lot more peace. Allow these thoughts to float in and then out of your mind, like clouds in the sky on a windy day.
MORE GLOSS: How to combat stress
The NHS reckons that if exercise was a pill, it would be one of the most effective ever made. Exercise helps us to burn off excess adrenaline, produce anxiety-busting endorphins and even helps the brain to recover any damage from the long-term effects of stress and anxiety. Unfit? The great news is that the more unfit you are, the more benefits you have to gain from starting exercise. Pretty fit already? Some evidence suggests higher intensity exercise could have the best anxiety calming results.
It's a rope
One of my favourite writers and teachers, Byron Katie gives a wonderful example. She talks about how the anxious mind sees a coil of rope on the floor and is terrified, thinking it's a snake. In fact it's a mental illusion. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there are no snakes, only ropes, that our anxious minds trick us into believing are snakes. So next time you're worried or anxious about something, tell yourself, it's just a rope, it's not a snake.
In his book, the Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about how in the modern workplace, we're encouraged to spot mistakes and think critically about things. However, once we've trained our minds to do this, we're also more likely to notice mistakes and be critical in our personal lives too. Not ideal if you're anxious! To counteract this, train your mind to spot positive things by keeping a daily gratitude journal. Write down 3 specific things you're grateful for and why, 3 things you're looking forward to and 3 things you did well recently. After a few weeks, you'll find your brain naturally seeks out more positive things.
This breathing technique helps the body go from fight or flight mode to 'rest and digest' mode in only a few minutes. Breathe in for a quick count of 7 and then out for 11. As you inhale, let your belly expand like a balloon so that you're breathing in really deeply into your diaphragm. As you exhale, let the balloon deflate. Continue for a few minutes or for as long as you like.
Answer back to your thoughts
This tip comes from cognitive behavioural therapy. Write down your anxious thoughts or worries and then imagine you are 'answering back' to the thought from the point of view of a caring, rational friend. What would they have to say about the matter? For example, if your worried thought is 'I totally messed up the presentation; I'm a complete failure' you could respond to the thought with 'The presentation may not have gone totally to plan, but you learned a lot about what to improve for next time. There have been many other presentations of yours which have gone well.'
Which of these tips do you intend to implement and why? Let us know in the comments below.
Chloe Brotheridge is an anxiety expert and London based therapist, for details of the online programme for anxiety, see www.calmer-you.com . For more information on 1-2-1 sessions in London see www.easywaytochange.co.uk
Always speak to your doctor if you think you may have anxiety to get a proper diagnosis.