Anxiety can be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you manage it.
As someone who’s had it for years, I truly believe the slight undercurrent of panic has been the fuel behind most of the great things I’ve achieved in my life. However, when it gets on top of you it can be an absolute nightmare.
So how do you turn anxiety into a positive and make sure you have control over it rather than it controlling you?
1. Download a breathing app.
The first time I tried this it felt like I was on a miracle drug when all I was doing was breathing properly. When anxiety gets on top of you, taking deep breaths can be a real struggle. There’s tightness in your chest that won’t go away and it often feels like your lungs are operating at half their capacity. This is bad for obvious reasons but mostly because taking shallow breaths only makes the situation worse.
So how do you get your lungs feeling like they’re working again and your heart beating at a normal rate? You don’t need to learn complex breathing techniques, all you need to do is exhale for longer than you inhale and your parasympathetic nervous system will kick into gear and calm you down.
It’s literally that simple. Problem is, if you’re trying to do that in the middle of a panic attack or when you’re on the verge of one, it can be impossible unless you have something to focus on. A breathing app gives you an audiovisual guide that you inhale and exhale along to and it’s incredibly effective. I use the ‘Relax Lite’ app (it’s free) and the first time I tried it I was advised to do it for 10 minutes. An hour later I was still pressing refresh because I hadn’t felt that good in months.
"The first time I tried this it felt like I was on a miracle drug when all I was doing was breathing properly." Image via iStock.
2. Do yoga.
If you suffer from anxiety you’ll know that while meditation is wonderful in theory, the idea of sitting still for an hour isn’t always practical, particularly when you can feel things getting on top of you. But there’s something about meditation associated with moving your body that gives you something to focus on other than the fact your heart might explode out your chest.
If you haven’t done much yoga it may take a little while to move from “I can’t do any of the moves and this is making me more frustrated” to “I’m so Zen right now” but it’s worth putting in the time to get there. Once you do, that hour on the mat will be the calmest part of your whole day.
3. Exercise, exercise, exercise.
If you suffer from anxiety and you’re not regularly exercising you need to get your joggers on right now and get your butt out the door. Going through the Groundhog Day cycle of sitting at your desk, going home, going to sleep and doing it all again will turn you into a little pressure cooker waiting to explode. If you hate exercise, tough. You have to find a way to introduce it into your weekly routine because that pent up energy needs to go somewhere.
Sure, if you’re in the full throws of a panic attack it’s probably not the best idea to head out for a run but when you’re in management mode running, aerobics or anything physical will help you keep the beast at bay.
4. Stand on your head.
I might stress this is a personal suggestion based on experience rather than a doctor’s recommendation (although I’ve never had a doctor tell me not to do it).
If you’re a bit of a yogi this will be a no brainer, but if you don’t know how to do a headstand or any other inversion, try lying on the bed and hanging off the edge of it upside down. I’m assuming it has something to do with the rush of fresh blood to the head but I have held more than a few panic attacks at bay with this method so while it might seem nuts, it works. (Post continues after gallery.)
5. Wake up early.
Naturally if you get up earlier you have to go to bed earlier but if you’re one of those people who wakes up 10 minutes before they race out the door, changing the time on your alarm clock will change your life. I know it’s tempting to stay rugged up in bed but give yourself an extra 30 minutes and increase it bit by bit from there.
These days I make sure I have at least 1 ½ - 2 hours before I leave the house to eat breakfast, write and read. This simple change to your morning routine will help you get yourself calm and centred before you start the day so you’re not a ball of nerves before you’ve checked your first email. I guarantee once you get over the doona separation anxiety you’ll never go back to racing out the door with wet hair again.
So there you go fellow anxiety kid, a few ways to help you keep calm and carry on.