Kick anxiety to the curb and reclaim your life from stress
Have you ever found yourself so utterly overwhelmed that your heart begins to race, breathing becomes difficult, and for a that split moment you feel like you’ve lost a complete grasp on life? Well, before you tell yourself to get a grip, take a deep breath. Anxiety is very real.
In fact, up to 40 per cent of Australians will experience a panic attack or anxiety episode at some point in their lives. In general, anxiety is the most common type of mental disorder in Australia with 14.4 per cent of people having experienced it in the last 12 months, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Although symptoms may vary from person to person, there’s one thing that’s certain: it can be truly terrifying.
Consultant psychologist and hypnotherapist, Kellee Waters explains that anxiety is a very normal response to a distressing event or perceived threat. But when things get out of hand (often at a rapid rate), anxiety can quickly turn into a panic attack, “leaving you with chest pain, heart palpitations and dizziness – even causing a detachment from one’s thoughts and behaviours,” says Waters.
Anxiety can hit anyone
So who’s at risk of one of these frightening episodes? Anyone with a pile of unpaid bills or a looming deadline could make the cut, but as Waters reveals, “it could come down to whether you’re a controller or a pleaser”.
“Controllers are perfectionists, they have high expectations, are often competitive, easily frustrated and ignore physical signs of stress and fatigue,” she explains.
“The pleasers include people that are shy, introverted, emotionally sensitive, often take on too much responsibility for situations, but also fears criticism or judgement from others.”
Personality types aside, anxiety could just be in our DNA. “You could be more likely to experience anxiety if there’s a family history of it or other mental health issues,” says Waters.
How to manage an episode
In order to help you dissolve anxiety and wild out-of-control thoughts, there are few things that can help.
Waters recommends a life audit to understand the initial cause. Start untangling your life’s web by looking at what your responsibilities and daily stressors are and how you manage these. “Being honest with yourself is often the first step,” she says.
Psychologist Dr Maria Scoda believes that the type of management depends on whether the anxiety stems from a current issue or is something the person has been dealing with for a long time.
“Panic attacks and specific phobias for example, might be treated using cognitive and behavioural strategies like reframing unhelpful thoughts and breathing techniques. However, someone who’s experienced trauma or long standing anxiety might benefit from a longer course of psychotherapy,” she says.
When it comes to finding calm through breath, Maria suggests taking deep, long breaths whenever you’re in a state of panic.
Typically an anxious person takes short, shallow breaths as the activation of your flight or fight system kicks in, a bodily process designed to help keep you safe from harm by taking in more oxygen to help you fight or flee. But shallow or over-breathing causes you to expel carbon dioxide faster than your body can create it, causing you to hyperventilate – the culprit behind those nasty symptoms like chest pain and dizziness.
“There are many different types of breathing exercises that one can do to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and bring the body back to a state of rest or relaxation,” says Scoda.
“A basic abdominal breathing technique can be as simple as taking a long slow breath in through your nose, holding for a second and then exhaling slowly through your mouth. While doing so, place your hand on your belly so you can follow the rhythm and feel it when it expands when you inhale.”
Aside from good breathing practice, Waters recommends things like eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, listening to music, writing down your worries and tackling a sweat session, to help change the brain chemistry to make you feel calmer and happier – even staying hydrated (1.8-2.2L of water per day) is bound to help.
And for those who are drinking their fourth cup of coffee at 5pm, you might want to re-think your coffee habits. “Caffeine may increase feelings of nervousness and interfere with sleep. So try to avoid coffee after 12pm,” Waters says.
If these techniques don’t do the trick, seeking support should never be seen as a weakness. “It’s an incredible and generous gift to yourself. The positive, flow on effect can improve all aspects of your life,” says Waters.
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Lifeline – 131114
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