The anxiety epidemic
Anxiety is at epidemic proportions. High stress levels and demands accompanied by low emotional regulation and stress tolerance skills are a major contributor. Likewise, the loss of close-knit community connection and the increase in our digital dependency exacerbate feelings of isolation and disconnect. A certain level of anxiety is inevitable and can actually work to our favour. It keeps us introspective and self-aware, as well as having a motivational element. However, for many anxiety reaches intolerable levels. So how do we discern whether the anxiety we experience is problematic? There are a few key variables we can consider.
Specificity: Is our anxiety specific to an event or situation or is it vague?
Intensity: Are the symptoms manageable or do they feel like the onset of panic?
Duration: Does the anxiety abate or is it pervading?
Impact: Does it impede on or interfere with our quality of life?
If anxiety is context specific, it generally tends to self-regulate, particularly when breathing, grounding and mindfulness exercises are applied. However, more generalised anxiety that does not abate needs specific attention. It can be extremely debilitating and severely impact on a person’s quality of life.
Cognitive reappraisal and emotional regulation are essential skills to develop, along with mindfulness and tolerance. Developing self-awareness and tapping into our internal monologue and stories help us identify what exactly is driving our anxiety. When we experience intrusive thinking, being able to challenge the thought objectively is a fundamental capability to have. More often than not, it is the feeling of not being in control of the outcome as opposed to the outcome itself that drives the feelings of panic. When we actually name the outcome and assess what how we would cope, we frequently find that it’s not half as threatening as the loop of panic makes it out to be. We think that worrying gives us control over an outcome when the reality is, it keeps us in a state of high stress and discomfort. Challenge the truth behind the thoughts. The more we can shift from our emotional perspective to a more rational outlook, the less likely we are to believe the falsehoods our minds can sell us.
It’s important to recognise that anxiety is driven by emotional responses; which are often triggers from past experience. Consequently, the anxiety is often a reaction to something we may have repressed at an earlier age. Recognising the source of our anxiety and processing the underlying pain is an important step in creating awareness; however, once a response has been created the likelihood is, we will always experience it to some extent. Practicing mindfulness and acceptance can be so beneficial. When we accept with and tolerate our triggers, they dissipate. However, when we try to from and avoid them, they tend to exacerbate.
One of the most effective ways I have found to alleviate anxiety is by taking the focus off the self by doing something kind for another. It has an instant uplift effect, sending feel good hormones flooding through your system. It benefits both giver and receiver; a symbiotic exchange. Getting out of the chaos of the mind and switching the focus to another can be so beneficial once you have addressed the source of your anxiety and brought the breathing into awareness.
Anxiety does not to be a life sentence; the more awareness and acceptance we create, the more we can tolerate the discomfort and distress it brings.
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