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Anxiety Self-Help

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Anxiety

Anxiety is the body's physical response to a situation which demands a response such as fight or flight.  Anxiety can be a very useful response - when in the jungle and faced with a roaring lion, you have two choices, kill the lion or run away - fight or flight.  The situations which may cause us anxiety today may not require those responses, but our body prepares itself anyway, by releasing adrenaline into our bloodstream.  The physical symptoms that we experience as a result, can also be disturbing.  We begin to sweat, our heart beats faster and we may experience palpitations, we may have pain, and our breathing rate increases.   Some people experience "butterflies in the stomach", the urge to go to the toilet, feel light-headed, dizzy or experience nausea, numbness, tingling or tremors.   If these symptoms are severe, then they are described as a panic attack and can resemble a heart attack - that fear of illness or death or of going crazy will only worsen the symptoms.  See section below for first aid treatment for a panic attack.  If we learn to slow down our breathing, breathe deeply and slowly, then we can minimise the symptoms and feel calmer.

There are many triggers to stress and anxiety:

They may include:  relationship problems, loss of someone close, loss of a job, financial problems, lack of sleep, work-related worries, abuse or physical illness.

It is important that everyone learns to control stress or anxiety to a manageable level.  Please read the Relaxation page for various relaxation methods - particularly the breathing techniques which will be referred to here.  There are several methods of anxiety management which can be practised at home, and I will briefly discuss them here. 

Identify the situations or thoughts that cause anxiety.  It is only by identifying them that you will learn to control the anxiety.  Consider the following:

When do I feel anxious - where am I?  Who am I with? etc

How do other people cope in this situation?

Is there anything I can do differently?

Am I allowing myself enough time?

Is there anyone I can talk to or telephone?

Is there a self-help group that could help?

 

Positive Self-Talk

Use positive self-talk and affirmations - tell yourself "I can ..."  or  "I will ..." and avoid the negative self-talk that you may be more used to.  See Self-Esteem page for more information.

Visualisation

Before you go into a situation that you know causes anxiety, visualise the situation one step at a time.  Visualise yourself succeeding and coping.  You may become aware of the anxiety, but imagine yourself using your breathing techniques and controlling that anxiety.  Use your positive self-talk, and see a good outcome.

Exposure

If you identify that there is one or more certain situations in which you become anxious, then you can learn to use a technique called exposure.  You should initially learn your breathing technique as described on the Relaxation page.  You may choose to prepare yourself for facing your anxiety by using the visualisation and self-talk methods beforehand.   I will use the example of a person who becomes anxious when shopping in a supermarket.  Make a plan which is appropriate to your own situation and level of anxiety.  You may need to start by just being in the car park, or the doorway.   As your anxiety symptoms kick in, then use your breathing techniques until your breathing returns to normal.  You can gradually increase the time you spend doing that each time, before you progress to entering the store itself.  Every time you go, spend a little more time, going a little further in.   It is important that your breathing return to normal, and you feel comfortable with the situation  before you leave.  Practice regularly, and don't be put off by set backs.

It may help to keep a diary of your progress - how you felt, what you did, how long it took etc, to let you know how well you're doing.

Time Management

Plan your day - list the chores or activities that need to be done today, then the ones that can wait until tomorrow.   List them in order of priority, and make sure you at least try to do those at the top of the list.  Balance time for work or chores, for time with family, and time for yourself.  Use an appointment diary or calendar.

Physical Exercise

Because anxiety is the body's response for fight or flight - physical exercise is a very good way of burning the adrenaline off.   It improves our physical well-being and helps to restore balance.  Choose the type of physical exercise that you enjoy and can do regularly - cycling, walking, swimming, dancing, sport etc.

Hobbies & Social Activities

See the Keeping Well page for suggestions

Set a time aside for worrying

Some people use a Worry Box - they write down what they are worrying about, and put the piece of paper in a box.  They only worry about that problem when they pull that piece of paper out of the box again.   Now and again, maybe once a week - sort through the box and deal with the most important worry.

Others set aside a few minutes or half an hour or so, to deal with worries.  Perhaps on the way home from work, whilst in a traffic jam.  If you have trouble sleeping at night - write down what you're concerned about.  You can go to sleep, assured that you won't forget about the problem - and take it up again in the morning.

 

Other Options

Make your own Action Plan:  What would I like to achieve;   the obstacles;  my fears;  my strengths;  I could get support from...;  I need more information...

Be realistic - don't set your goals too high

Deal with situations/problems before they get out of control

Take a break!

Talk problems over with a partner or friend

Pamper yourself - you deserve it!

Avoid too many changes together

Anxiety Links & further Info      Social Phobia        Relaxation

Sleeping Well

If you have trouble sleeping, there are some things you can do to help yourself get a good night’s rest:

 Use your choice of relaxation technique before going to bed (whatever works for you)

 Don’t go without sleep for a long time – keep to a regular pattern of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, whether you are tired or not

 Make sure that your bedroom is comfortable – not too hot, not too cold, and not too noisy

 Make sure that your bed is comfortable and supportive. 

 Get some regular exercise.  Try some regular swimming or walking.

 Cut down on caffeine (tea & coffee)  in the evening.  Try a milky drink instead.

 Don’t drink a lot of alcohol.  It may help you fall asleep, but you will almost certainly wake up during the night.

 Don’t eat or drink a lot late at night.  Try to have your evening meal early rather than late.

   If you’ve had a bad night, resist the temptation to sleep the next day – it will make it harder to get off to sleep the following night.

 If something is troubling you and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down before going to bed and then tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow.

   If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it.  Get up and do something you find relaxing like reading or listening to quiet music.  After a while you should feel tired enough to go to bed again.

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Panic Attacks

 

A panic attack is an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement.  Those who are normally anxious are more likely than most to suffer a panic attack.  All the previous symptoms are as previously discussed under “anxiety management”, but are more acute and severe. 

 

Most panic attacks last for between 5 and 20 minutes, although rarely they can last up to an hour.  Some people can experience one or two panic attacks, and never suffer another one; others may have several attacks each week or month.  They may seem to be completely unpredictable.

 

It is important to remember that, however dreadful you may feel during an attack, you are not going to die or go mad.   The bodily effects are just part of the panic – the breathlessness, chest pain and rapid heartbeat etc.

 

Avoidance

You may start to associate particular places and situations with having a panic attack.  In an attempt to avoid an attack, you may start to avoid those places.  This can develop into agoraphobia or social phobia.  Many people who experience panic attacks also become very depressed.

 

Causes

Everyone has different stimuli that start off the attack, and the original causes differ widely too.  From childhood experiences, to food allergies, jet lag, caffeine, smoking etc.

 

Take control

Your panic attacks are likely to make you feel out of control.  You have the power to control your symptoms.   When did it happen?  Where were you?  What were you thinking?  See if you can identify the negative thoughts which trigger the attacks. 

You could try visualising – retrain your imagination.  Panic attacks may occur because of your vivid imaginations- visualising disaster, illness and death.  You can train your imagination to focus on situations where you feel a sense of well being, a place of peace and relaxation.

Imagine yourself in the situation that causes the attacks, and talk positively to yourself: “I feel confident”, “I am doing well”, and “this is easy”.

Become more assertive.  Deal with problems more assertively

Learn a relaxation technique.

Diet:  Unstable blood sugar levels can contribute to symptoms of panic.   Eat regularly and avoid sugary foods and drinks.  Caffeine, alcohol and smoking all contribute to panic attacks.

 First Aid in a panic attack

Try cupping your hands or holding a paper bag over your nose and mouth, and breathing into it for several minutes.  This should raise the level of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream and relieve the symptoms.  Other first aids tips are: running on the spot,   and try distracting yourself by trying to focus on what is going on around you.

Panic Attacks       Sleeping Well         Anger         Relaxation

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Anxiety Links           PTSD           Social Phobia            Books

Guernsey Support Groups

Changing Minds - Anxiety

Anxiety Self-Help page  at mindinfo.co.uk

Relaxation page

Why Me?

First Steps to Freedom

National Phobics Society 

Anxiety Disorders  inc. Phobias, Social Anxiety, OCD, PTSD etc

Generalised Anxiety Home Page

Helping Children to Cope with Worries and Anxieties - RC Psych Factsheet

Anxiety and Phobias  RCPsych

Stress  RCPsych

Agoraphobia

Coping with Stress - a Guide for Young People

Anxiety Disorders in Children & Adolescents   Medscape article

Childhood Anxiety Disorders    Medscape article

Anxiety Disorders at NIMH

Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia

Panic

Panic Disorder Home Page

Panic and Anxiety Management Resource

Agoraphobia

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Stress UK

Stress

Anxiety Self-Help

AnxietyNetwork.com

Anxiety-Panic.com

Panic Attacks and Phobias

The Anxiety + Panic Internet Resource

Anxiety Disorders  index at NIMH

Anxiety Disorders at Internet Mental Health

Music Therapy in Stress Management

Anxiety & Panic at Suite 101

Sleep Problems in Children   RCPsych

alt.support.anxiety-panic   Forum

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Let's Hope

PTSD Sanctuary

PTSD

Social Phobia

Social Anxiety

Social Phobia

Social Anxiety Home Page

Social Anxiety Disorder UK Home Page

Social Phobia articles

Social Phobia support forum

Books

Coping with Anxiety and Depression
Learn to Relax
Manage Your Mind 
Overcoming Anxiety
Overcoming Panic
The Shyness & Social Anxiety Handbook

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If you feel unable to control your anxiety, then it would be wise to seek help - from your doctor, your community mental health nurse, from friends and family, from self-help groups etc

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04 May 2002

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