We all worry about things – it’s normal. We may feel nervous before an exam, a performance, or some other challenge, but it usually passes once we have dealt with the situation. Some of us, however, can’t seem to stop thinking the same stressful thoughts over and over again. We can also:
- have trouble sleeping
- feel a constant sense of dread, as if something terrible is going to happen
- have difficulty concentrating or thinking straight
When you feel anxious about some future event or situation, your brain thinks you are in danger right now and starts producing adrenalin and other body chemicals to get you ready to ‘fight’ the danger, or run away. This is why you can have these strong physical responses:
- Heart racing or pounding
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Difficulty breathing or hyperventilating
- Dizziness, hot flush, tingling or numbness
- Stomach pain, a dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
If your physical symptoms are stopping you from going out or doing normal things, please see your GP. Anxiety responds very well to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with or without medication. In the meantime, there are lots of things you can do to de-stress.
What can you do?
• Close your eyes and take five slow, deep breaths. Feel how your body relaxes with each exhalation. Repeat this as many times as you can every day.
• Don’t give your physical responses lots of ‘attention’ – they are just your body’s automatic response to the ‘danger’ your brain has imagined. (Tell yourself, ‘Big deal. My heart is racing.’)
• Give your brain something else to think about (play patience, solve a puzzle, do a crossword) – it can only do one thing at a time.
• Focus on this moment, now – the blue sky, the smell of a strawberry, the giggles of a baby – whatever you’re seeing and feeling, do your best to make the most of it.
• If you want to try online therapy for anxiety, ecouch (run by the Australian National University) offers free self-help modules.