Rehab 4 Addiction

Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. On its own, an experience of anxiety is not necessarily problematic; in moments of danger, anxiety pushes the body to act in a safe, self-preserving way.

However, when experiences of anxiety become debilitating and prevent an individual from doing the things they must, it is vital to their well-being that they acknowledge and confront the anxiety head-on [2], [7].

Some anxiety is healthy but should not prevent an individual from living a fulfilling life.

Once a person has acknowledged that anxiety has reached the point of being problematic, it is time to begin actively working towards relaxation.

For those who struggle with frequent bouts of anxiety, even to the point of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, it is important to know that anxiety is not a given.

With hard work and practice, anyone can mitigate the role that anxiety plays in their life. Even the most ingrained stress reactions can be overcome with diligence, patience, and deliberate action.

Defining Anxiety

Anxiety is a vague term that refers to an individual’s response to fear and/or stress. This response can take a number of forms, so it is important to reflect upon the manifestations of anxiety in your own body as you begin to work on decreasing its impact [2], [6].

Symptoms of anxiety tend to fit into one of three categories:

  • Physiological – Physical reactions of the body in the presence of a stressor are known as physiological responses. Common examples of physiological symptoms include but are not limited to: an increased heart rate; stiff, tense body; insomnia; and aches and pains throughout the body
  • Emotional – Feelings such as fear, anger and apprehension are all emotional responses typical of anxiety. These responses cannot be directly measured by any physical test, but rather refer to the emotional state a person might be in when faced with anxiety or stress
  • Cognitive – An individual’s cognitive response to stress is the pattern of thoughts that accompany the presence of an anxious state. A person’s ability to concentrate or form ordered thought can be impacted by anxiety and fear, as can additional cognitive functions also not apparent to the naked eye. Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy are designed to manage your cognitive response to stressful situations

So, while not all symptoms of anxiety are obvious and apparent, all have the potential to impede an individual’s quality of life and should be acknowledged as legitimate concerns.

If one or multiple manifestations of anxiety prevent a person from pursuing their wants or needs, then it is important to confront the cause of this stress in order to alleviate the symptoms.

Though symptoms may range in severity and appearance, all can be overcome with time [2], [6].

Learning to Relax

Relaxing is easier said than done for a person suffering from anxiety. The very nature of anxiety is to call the body into action through the release of adrenaline and reprogramming these response mechanisms require a great deal of time and repetition.

It is not enough for a person to want to relax in the midst of an anxious episode; developing healthy anxiety responses before fear or stress occurs is important to decreasing anxiety at the moment.

When in the middle of an anxious state, it can be difficult for a person to think rationally. For this reason, relaxation should be practised repeatedly until it has become an ingrained behaviour the individual does not need to consider.

This is not a quick process but is undeniably worthwhile for those suffering from extreme anxiety in their daily lives.

Integrate ten to thirty minutes of relaxation into your daily routine, once in the morning and once in the evening. You do not need to force yourself to practice a relaxation technique that does not benefit your body or mind; give a range of techniques a try and use whatever provides the most benefit to you.

Relaxation is not one size fits all, so do not punish yourself is a certain technique does not seem to be working.

Take a deep breath and give a different technique a try:

1. Try 7:11 diaphragmatic (belly) breathing

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position. While this might not be easy in the grips of an anxiety episode, do your best to relax your body. The shoulder should be square to the body, but not tense. The arms should fall to either side of the body, resting gently
  2. Close the eyes. Do your best to block out distractions. While you relax, you do not need to attend to the outside world; focus on your space, your body, and your breathing
  3. Focus on making every exhale longer than the preceding inhale. A simple way to do this is to mentally count to 7 as you inhale, and to 11 as you exhale. Try not to rush your counting – appreciate the sensation of breathing in and out until you begin to feel calm
  4. If you feel yourself running out of air, try inhaling to the count of 3 and exhaling to the count of 5. You should not leave the body gasping for air, as this can exacerbate pre-existing anxiety
  5. Repeat this breathing pattern 10 to 20 times, or until the anxiety begins to subside. Don’t let the mind wander as you count; stay aware of your body relaxing and, should the mind being to wander, gently refocus is back on the process at hand

This method of relaxing and overcoming anxiety is popular for its subtle mechanisms. In a busy public space, a person can still make practice this method of relaxation without feeling as though they are drawing unwanted attention to themselves [4].

2. Tension Practices

  1. Starting at the lowest point in your body – your toes and your feet – clench your muscles for several seconds. Close your eyes and acknowledge the feeling of your tightly clenched body
  2. After several seconds, release the muscles. Experience the feel of the body relaxing as long as you can, noticing the major and minor sensations that result from the relaxing limbs
  3. Move up the body to the next major muscle group. Repeat the clenching and unclenching in this way until you’ve addressed the calves, thighs, stomach, arms, and all the other major muscle groups in your body. You do not need to rush through this process; linger on each step to fully experience the relaxation as it unfolds

3. Learning to Master Mindfulness

Though it has become a sort of buzz word as of late, mindfulness is a genuinely valuable practice for those who struggle with problematic anxiety in their day-to-day life.

While over time, it should ideally become an intrinsic element to your daily life, when first practised, it does not always come so naturally. Like any other skill, with practice, living mindfully will become easier, even in stressful, anxious situations.

Simply put, mindfulness is the act of living in the moment [5]. In fact, the mindfulness perspective plays a major role in many of the previous techniques.

When you focus on the sensation of your fists clenching or your lungs breathing in and out, this is an example of mindfulness in action. However, mindfulness does not only apply to active relaxation. Every behaviour and action can be approached mindfully, with practice.

Mindfulness can be especially helpful in promoting healthy, appropriate responses to stress, as well as in identifying instances of unhealthy anxiety forming.

To begin incorporating this practice into your life, start by practising normal, routine actions that produce minimal anxiety. Acts like brushing your hair or teeth, vacuuming the house, or doing the dishes might not seem like much but are really experiences full tiny sensations, feelings, and emotions you do not normally consider.

Experience the feel of your arm moving your brush or the warm water dripping down your rubber glove. Keep your thoughts solely on the here and now.

Over time, this practice of living in the moment will become a more regular part of your routine, one you might not need to work so consciously towards achieving.

Until then, remain patient and keep practicing. If you can get to the point where mindfulness is the default state, previously anxious events will start to lose their foreboding appearance [5].

4. Imagined Escapes

If your current environment is contributing to the anxiety you are experiencing, it can be beneficial to focus your thoughts on a private, safe space of your choosing. This safe space does not necessarily need to be a location; consider a behaviour, a person, or a place that makes you feel at peace.

This place will not be the same for everybody, and there is no “wrong” safe space. As long as your imagined environment helps to make you feel at peace, it can be useful in overcoming unhelpful anxiety.

When anxiety begins to set in, let your mind drift to your safe place. Take care to fully experience every detail of this imagined space. If a particular action, such as lying in the grass or stretching under the sun, is in your mind, appreciate the feel of the sun on your skin, the smell of the grass that tickles your arms, and the sound of the gentle breeze dancing through your hair. The more vividly you can picture your safe space, the more benefit you can reap from it.

Remember, you should not need to force a specific safe place to relax you. Do not stress if you can’t imagine someone else’s space or if certain sensations in your own space do not come naturally – this is entirely normal, not a shortcoming on your part.

Focus on what you do sense and let your mind work from there, or if need be, find another safe space that offers you more benefit.

5. Check Your Sleep Schedule

If it’s not already a part of your regular routine, never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Situations tend to seem more negative when we are tired; in a bad mood, it’s much easier to see the negative in an experience than the positive.

But sleep allows the body to relax and rejuvenate, so try not to go without it for too long. If you find yourself awaking in the morning still tired, renovating your sleep schedule can go a long way to decreasing the anxiety you experience along the way.

Insomnia is a frequent struggle for those who suffer from extreme anxiety. The more you worry about the sleep that you are not getting, the harder it is to fall asleep at all.

Do your best not to get worked up about insomnia, and instead focus your mind on relaxing your muscles and your mind. Visiting your safe space can be helpful when sleep eludes you, as can practicing mindfulness in the quiet of the night [6].

Concluding Thoughts

Anxiety can feel like an impossible struggle, but it is one that can be overcome with due diligence. Once you acknowledge the role that anxiety plays in your own life, make relaxation, mindfulness, and proper sleep a priority in your daily schedule.

Dedicate yourself to making healthy, mindful practices a natural response to stress and your body will, over time, begin to turn to these techniques when faced with a stressor.

And most importantly, never compare your struggle with anxiety to someone else’s. While opening up to another with similar experiences can be useful for forming a support system and learning new techniques, what helps one person to alleviate anxiety might not necessarily work for you [1].

Do not punish yourself if a practice does not come naturally or does not seem to benefit your mind – simply acknowledge that such a technique is not going to be effective in your own journey with anxiety.

By understanding that our difficulties are both unique and possible to overcome, we provide ourselves with a sturdy foundation off of which we can build healthy coping strategies.

References

[1] Be the Life and Soul of the Party: socialising for success by Clare Walker, Crown House Publishing, 2005.

[2] Beck, A., Emery, G. and Greensberg, R. (1985) Anxiety Disorders and Phobias. Basic Books.

[3] Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169-183. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018555

[4] Jerath, R., Crawford, M. W., Barnes, V. A., & Harden, K. (2015). Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 40, 107-115.

[5] Reid., E., Miller, L. (2005) Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19:4.

[6] https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/mental-health/anxiety.html

[7] https://www.stpatricks.ie/mental-health/anxiety

boris

Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.