What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is known as the feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness when there is no real threat present. Anxiety can cause individuals to feel sweaty, become tense, become fidgety, can increase heartbeat, can make you feel faint, can increase how fast you think and what you think about, can make you feel overstimulated, and can cause you to have panic attacks. Those who have anxiety to any degree focus more on the future and concerns about the future than the present or past, as no one knows what the future holds. Those with anxiety tend to have avoidance behaviour, which means they intentionally avoid doing things, going places, listening to things, etc. that make them feel anxious. When an individual has any degree of anxiety, their ‘fight or flight’ response does not function as it should; meaning that those who have anxiety tend to choose the ‘flight’ option when feeling anxious when there is no real threat present (meaning they leave the situation in which they feel anxious).
What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Unless you know an individual has any type of anxiety it is difficult to tell they have it. To the individual who has anxiety, they feel as though those around them know they have anxiety and that they can see when the individual is anxious, which is not true at all. Lots of people without anxiety do things externally that anxious people do, such as fidget, sweat, stutter when speaking, not talk much in public spaces, avoid situations they do not wish to partake in, etc. This then makes it hard to identify whether or not someone has anxiety based on their external appearance and actions.
How Can I Help Someone With Anxiety?
If you know someone with anxiety, you can help them feel more comfortable in a variety of ways. If they are in public and seem anxious, ask them if they would like to go for a walk and cool off for a minute. You can also offer to sit with them or stand by them so they have someone to talk to, listen to them, make them feel less alone in their anxiety and assist them if need be. If you are a teacher or employer, making a safe and quiet space for those with anxiety to go to when they are overwhelmed could be very beneficial. Let those with anxiety know that their feelings are valid, reassure them as much as they need, and be there for them whenever possible.
What Can I Do To Be Less Anxious?
When it comes to your anxiety (if this does not apply to you then you can suggest these coping mechanisms to others with anxiety) some important coping mechanisms and practices that you can do to ease your anxiety are:
-The 4-7-8 breathing exercise. This exercise can be done anywhere, at anytime, and is not noticeable to those around you. The way 4-7-8 is done is by inhaling down into your belly for 4 seconds, holding this breath for 7 seconds, and then slowly exhaling for 8 seconds. This can be done in sets of 3 as many times per day as you would like. What 4-7-8 does is it rewires your central nervous system (CNS) and allows the tension and sensations of your body to reset and relax. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise can also help prevent panic attacks when you feel one coming on.
-The 5 Senses Environment Search: This search can also be done without anyone else noticing you are doing it. In this exercise, those with anxiety are asked to find 1 thing they can see, 1 thing they can smell, 1 thing they can taste, 1 thing they can hear, and 1 thing they can feel with their hands. The individual then scans the room for a different object in each category and thinks about how each item’s properties are presented. By the end of this exercise the anxious individual should feel less anxious due to focusing on a small group of sensations and not their anxiousness, which calms the body and promotes healthier thoughts and actions.
-Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment you are currently in while not worrying or thinking about the past or the present. When practising mindfulness it is important to not say “no” to any thoughts that are not in the moment, but to instead recognize these thoughts and gently bring yourself back to the present moment. A nice way to see negative, past, or future thoughts are to look at them like they are a cloud in the sky. When a cloud floats into the sky (i.e. the non-present/negative thought) look at it, acknowledge it, then simply let it float away from sight.
Break the Stigma Surrounding Anxiety
Anxiety is much more common than most people think, it is not a form of weakness, and those who have it matter and have valid feelings. Society is getting better at not discriminating against those with anxiety, but we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to creating a world in which anxiety is fully accepted and those with anxiety are treated fairly. In order to break the stigma surrounding anxiety you can make social media posts about anxiety and breaking the stigma, speak out when those with anxiety are treated poorly, support those with anxiety, and let others know that your space is a safe space and all feelings can be felt free of judgement.
Author: Karin Scott