Anxiety Oxford Dictionary – ‘A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
As a mental health nurse and having trained in psychoanalytic observation, I like to think that I am quite good at reading people. I can see through the awkward smile, the nervous laugh and the anxious silence, but they don’t all look the same. The faces of anxiety are different.
Where does anxiety come from really?!
Although many might think that Freud still is highly Taboo and his writings were mad, his work has been the basis of many further developments. From my education specifically of Freud and Melanie Klein at The Tavistock, my understanding of anxiety comes from our really early experiences. Some describe the first trauma of life (and experience of anxiety) to be the experience of birth. Any parent could identify with this. If you have seen a programme that shows giving birth, even if it’s not accurate at all, you can see what kind of anxiety could be experienced as a baby being born. As you develop as a baby, lots of your experiences feel like ‘OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?! Feeling hungry, a full nappy, a funny feeling in babies tummy (a burp) all are unusual feelings for babies and we learn how to understand and cope with these unknowns with our parents helping us.
Parents will burp the baby, change the nappy, ideally try and verbalise what might be happening for the tiny being and eventually the baby understands the world will not end, it in fact is manageable.
My favourite analogy is the use of a tennis ball (any bouncy ball). If you bounce it, no matter how hard or soft, it will come down again because gravity exists. This principle is the same as the ‘anxiety curve’. Our body is incapable of maintaining the physical energy required to stay in an anxiety state so the body will have to relax and come down from the peak. That doesn’t mean that it feels like that, but the brilliant thing about anxiety is that it is a fact that it WILL come down. It has to.
Other words used to describe anxiety –
Worry, fear, scared, concern, apprehensive, impatient, nervous, tense, stress, dread, timid, uneasy.
Anxiety Common Signs and symptoms
- Tight chest
- Sweaty palms
- Fast Heart Rate
- Fast Breathing
- Fuzzy thinking
- Tense shoulders
- Clenched jaw.
The theme here of course is that everything becomes tight, tense and coiled up in your body. The body responds as if it was in a fight or flight situation and there are 3 different ways most people will manage a fight or flight situation. Fight – attack, get angry, lash out, express their fears verbally or physically. This could be an actual fight or a verbal shouting match. Flight – run away or avoid. If you experience anxiety, you may avoid different situations, big groups, waiting in a coffee shop/bar on your own. If you are confronted with something difficult that raises anxiety, you run. Freeze – You are unable to think and process what to do, instead you are locked in the frozen, tight muscles, fuzzy brain place feeling that you can not get out of this situation.
Ways to manage anxiety –
If you know certain situations cause you anxiety, big groups, waiting by yourself for someone who is always late. My advice would be, plan ahead. Make sure you know what you are walking in to. How many people will be there, do you know everyone, is there a way to focus on a smaller group amongst the big group?
If you have a friend who is always late (been here many times – which makes me SO ANGRY!), plan to be late. I have in fact told notorious late friends in the past that I would meet them at 7pm for example, knowing that they would not arrive until 8pm. I would arrive at 8pm and they would still be late. Sitting in a bar or at a train station for nearly 2 hours is not fair on the person waiting, but to prepare for these situations, plan to be late and plan to have a back up? A book to read, a coffee shop to sit in, a friend to call?
Stop. Think. Here and now. What are you feeling here and now. Tight chest. Breathe. Relax your chest. Listen to your breath. Slow it down. Sweaty palms? Loosen your body up with deep breaths.
Just focus on your bodily sensations. Not what might happen, things that could happen, things that are ridiculous that might happen. See my https://powex.co.uk/mindfulness-introduction/and https://powex.co.uk/how-to-be-mindful/
Sensory tool box –
Find things that sooth you and keep them in a place that is easy to find or on you when you are out.
Smells – soothing (lavender, a perfume you really like, an item of clothing/small piece of muslin freshly washed).
Touch/textures – something squeezy (stress ball), shells, smooth stones, fluffy pom poms.
Tastes – Sweets or treats that take you to a good place or you just enjoy? Chewing gum – flavoured/mint, chocolate, hard boiled sweet.
Sounds – Spotify playlist for different ‘moods’. White noise tracks? Chillout ibiza tracks? Songs that make you feel relaxed.
Sight – Close your eyes, shut out the world. Put sunglasses on. Watch a video of crashing waves or palm trees in the wind. Have an image saved on your phone or a picture in your wallet that takes you to a place of calm and peace.
Express your anxiety –
Telling someone that you are feeling anxious is ok. If you are out, at home, wherever you may be, identifying the right emotion is really important. With my planning example – I would end up being angry at the person because I had been left on my own. I was never able to identify that the reason I didn’t like it (amongst many) was because I was anxious. Anxious that the person wouldn’t come. Worried that something might happen to me while I was waiting and I would be on my own. Fearful that something had happened to my friend. The experience of anxiety can often be mislabelled and I reckon if I was able to say this back then, there would have been fewer arguments and more understanding.
Slow steps –
Doing all of the above in one go is a lot! Pick something to start with and try out what works for you. Make your t0olbox, find your mindfulness technique, think about planning your event. These are some really useful tools to manage anxiety, I hope you find them useful.