Butterflies in your stomach—but not the good kind? Brace yourself; you've likely succumbed to the dreaded A-word. Research indicates that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S today, with the condition affecting almost 1 in 5 people.
As per an Indian study, in 2017, 197 million Indians were suffering from mental disorders, of which 45 million were anxiety disorders. This worrying number has doubled between 1990 and 2017 and is assumably even more alarming as we grapple with the ongoing pandemic.
"While anxiety is a seemingly typical stress reaction, if it impedes the productivity in your personal and professional life, doesn't dissipate over time and/or worsens, an intervention may be called for," Dr Roma Kumar, Co-Founder, Emotionally.in, puts forth. That said, there are more than one ways in which you can work around your anxiety and lead a healthy, functional life.
While seeking professional assistance can certainly help you deal with your anxious thoughts—and may even be strongly advisable in specific cases—therapy is expensive and may not be easily accessible to one and all. If you think your anxiety is manageable through self-intervention, turn to these tips to keep calm your nerves.
Remember, baby steps.
Identify Your Triggers
The initial step towards managing your anxiety involves knowing what makes you anxious in the first place. "Begin by asking yourself questions about the fear behind a particular situation, take into account the worst that might happen, what is realistically possible, and the best-case scenario as well. Once you wrap your head around the probable outcomes, fear of the unknown fades away," explains Garima Juneja, Psychologist and Founder, Lightroom Therapy and Counselling.
Challenge Dysfunctional Thought Patterns
It's usually conditioning that kicks in the ball of anxiety. According to Garima, excessive fear around failure, criticism, or judgment by people sprouts the dysfunctional and irrational thought that something awful is right around the corner. "Challenge your intrusive thoughts and learn to replace them with functional thought patterns, where there is room for mistakes and where reality and practicality co-exist," she adds.
Check Your Self-Talk
It's easy to negative self-talk—which one out of two times causes us to spiral into a bleak, confused headspace. This, in turn, expectedly spikes anxiety levels, causing us to magnify the smallest things and anticipate a gazillion hurdles that may hinder us from achieving our goals. Dr Roma suggests, "Notice what you say to yourself and work on more helpful, calming, and encouraging self-talk. Think about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen. Put things into perspective."
Practice Mindfulness Meditation
"Introspecting and screening your thoughts as they arise, settle, or get replaced, will give you an insight into the wanderings of the mind, reducing it into an unreliable instrument. Such insight can help instil a sense of calm and composition across situations, as you realise how fickle the mind is where all thoughts are transitory and ever-changing," says Garima. Dr Roma adds, "Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques will also allow your nervous system to routinely relax and readjust to a calmer state."
Practice Diaphragm Breathing
An antidote to anxiety, diaphragm breathing—deep breathing where the main focus is on the rise and fall of the stomach—can work wonders to calm your nerves. "Remember, when you breathe in, the stomach inflates like a balloon, and when you breathe out, squeeze it in. You could also practice box breathing (also referred to as square breathing), where you breathe in and pause and then breathe out and pause again. Positive visualisation while deep breathing can amplify its benefits," recommends Garima.
Inculcate—and Reward—Healthy Habits
Begin with the obvious stuff: eat well, sleep well, and exercise. Speaking about building a healthy lifestyle, Dr Roma posits, "Avoid, or at least limit, the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and any other toxic substance, to cope with stress and anxiety. Caffeinated beverages and excess sugar are also known to propel anxiety, so avoid those as far as possible too." Garima adds, "In the case of generalised anxiety, where the person remains constantly worried about life's happenings, turn to yogic pranayama techniques to help calm your senses through the deepening of the breath."
Be Open to Professional Intervention
"Talking about your thoughts with a professional can help you identify your triggers and also shine a light on your dysfunctional thought patterns. A therapist can help lead you to the root cause of the problem and stimulate a shift in your core beliefs, in a graded fashion, especially if you are struggling to do so by yourself," informs Garima. "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, in specific, can help you alter your unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that contribute to your anxiety, and also build the skills to manage anxiety when it arises," Dr Roma adds.
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