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How to manage anxiety

iStock-941847258.jpgLiving with a long-term health condition like multiple sclerosis (MS) can often cause anxiety. MS-UK's Counsellors have put together some tips for dealing with worries.

1 Befriend your anxiety

Anxiety is a friend and not a foe. Sounds crazy right? Anxiety is a response that is always trying to keep you physically or emotionally safe. We can spend a lot of our time thinking of it as bad but, by understanding anxiety has our health and wellbeing at heart, we can begin to shift that negative association.

2 Listen to the message your anxiety is trying to tell you

If you become anxious every time you think about going out, why is that? Is it that you have a fear of open spaces, or is it that you are concerned about your health? We often react to what we think the anxious feeling is telling us and not the actual message.

3 Build yourself up with positive self-talk

How do you speak to yourself? If like many of us, if you are prone to the occasional internal self-flagellation, you are not alone. Talking negatively to ourselves might feel natural, but the act of speaking negatively has a knock-on effect on our anxiety.

4 Avoid caffeine

This might seem obvious, but caffeine can have a huge effect on anxiety levels. If it is your morning routine, try to change that coffee for another hot drink. You will notice the difference and will still get to stick to your routine.

5 Try mindfulness meditation and muscle relaxation

There are plenty of apps, online tutorials, books and classes to attend. Mindfulness takes your mind away from the ‘what if’s’ of the future and helps you to focus on what is really important – the here and now.

6 Offload night time thoughts

If, like many people, anxiety at night affects your sleep, try having an old fashioned pen and paper by your bed to get the anxious thoughts out there.

7 Try journaling

Especially before bed if sleep is an issue

8 breathe

Deep breathing techniques can be a valuable self-help tool. Start to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth at a rate that is comfortable for you. Identify a colour that represents peace and calmness. Imagine you are breathing this colour in through your nose. This colour is flooding your body, arteries, veins and organs. At the same time identify a colour that represents your anxiety. Start to breathe this colour out through your mouth. Imagine your anxiety colour being pushed from your body by the peaceful, calming colour.

9 look at cognitive distortions

Our anxiety is fuelled by our thoughts. Imagine your anxiety as a tree. The part of the tree you can see above ground represents your anxiety. The part of the tree that you can’t see, the underground roots, represents your thoughts. It’s the roots that keep your anxiety tree alive. Common thoughts associated with anxiety are

 

·         Prediction – believing we know what the future holds

·         Mind reading – believing we know what other people are thinking

·         Catastrophising – believing the worst thing will happen

·         Shoulds and musts – imposing pressure upon ourselves by saying “I should… I must”

·         Critical self – putting ourselves down and blaming ourselves for events which are not our fault

 

Our thoughts are opinions…very rarely are they based upon facts

10 have ‘worry time’

This is about giving yourself space to ‘worry’ for a specific period of time. Once that time is up, push your thoughts associated to your anxiety to one side

11 see a counsellor

This will help you understand what might be behind some of your anxious thoughts and feelings if you have trouble identifying them for yourself.  This might be related to some deep-seated issues including feelings of low self-esteem, specific events in the past or relationships with family members, colleagues or friends.

12 get some fresh air

Reconnect in whichever way is possible to the outdoors and nature so that you can tune back into your five senses.  What can you smell, hear, see, taste and touch?

13 put together a ‘mood basket’

Maybe it’s a blanket you can touch, a candle you can stare into or a piece of music that you can listen to at times when things feel a bit too much, or to help you get through a difficult moment.

14 don’t be too hard on yourself

Forgive yourself if you’re finding things tough and not achieving the things that you want to do. Take the time to reflect on your experience and to re-evaluate.  Maybe you need to take smaller steps in the direction of your goal once you’re ready to make another attempt, and relish your achievement at every step of the way.