We have all experienced anxiety at some time or another. For many of us, it feels unpleasant, uneasy, uncomfortable and sometimes scary. It comes in many different forms and no two people will experience it in the same way. It can even look different at different times, and in different situations, for the same person!
And it’s unpredictable.
Right now, as a result of the pandemic, anxiety levels are high, even in people who may not have experienced anxiety before. So what can you do you support yourself, and those around you, to manage their anxiety? First, it can be valuable to learn more about how anxiety works.
A positive reframe for anxiety
Anxiety is a form of energy that needs an outlet. While we tend to see anxiety as a largely negative emotion, it can also be helpful and informative. By giving our experience of anxiety a new ‘story’ or positive reframe, we can actually learn to work with it in more constructive ways. In fact, the more comfortable we become with anxious thoughts and feelings, the better we feel.
For example, anxiety can be seen as a sign of strength—of wanting to feel good, of gearing up to do something. It can also be a message from our body that we are overstretched or need to attend to self-care.
Conversely, the more time you spend avoiding anxiety, the greater chance there is of setting up dysfunctional habits in order to avoid feeling it. For example, many people fall into the habit of trying to manage the discomfort of long-term stress and anxiety with alcohol.
How the brain and body respond
There is always a physiological aspect to anxiety. Certain parts of the brain (such as the amygdala) spring into action, releasing a chain of chemicals commonly known as the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response. More recently, ‘flop’ and ‘(be)friend’ have been added to this list. All of these are felt as some kind of stress.
Like a faulty alarm system on a car, sometimes these fear signals trigger in humans for no reason at all. When the car alarm goes off randomly, we know it’s important to remain calm, knowing that there is no actual threat, so we can do what we need to do to stop the alarm.
If you feel your brain hitting the panic button for no good reason, try and distract yourself. Remind yourself that there is no actual threat; it’s just a feeling or thought or both. It’s ok. It passes. Talk to yourself calmly, breathe slowly through your nose, and find a pleasant, distracting activity as soon as you can. Focus on the outside world—for example, observe the environment around you using your five sense, or count, or list as many colours as you can—rather than on your internal state. Wait until the wave passes. It will.
With strategies like these, you activate other parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, that moderate the effects of the stress response by providing a soothing or reassuring antidote.
The purpose of our card sets
The aim of the Anxiety Solutions and Anxiety Solutions for Kids card sets is to provide people with a range of ‘antidotes’ to the stress response. The cards include a wide range of creative, cognitive and physical strategies. Some of these will appeal to some brains more than others, and that is fine. Anxiety or stress patterns are personal, and so are the solutions.
The most effective techniques retrain the brain away from its habitual pattern by using changes in both physiology and focus. That’s what these cards are all about. Giving the mind a new task that will either alter physiology or focus so that a person can access a different state, even if it’s just a slight change or improvement.
From Anxiety Solutions
Booklet author: Selina Byrne M.A.P.S.