How to cope with anxiety | Effective Strategies

Most people, after developing an anxiety disorder, change their life, and put themselves at the service of anxiety.

Anxiety takes control of their life, one step at a time.

But if we understand how anxiety works, and what tricks it pulls on us, then we slowly regain control.

We take life in our hands. Anxiety is at our service.

I know very well how it feels to suffer from anxiety.

It’s a tough experience.

You don’t do the things you love. You don’t hang out with people like you used to. And panic attacks make you feel… obviously terrorized for a few minutes.

This article is everything you need to know about anxiety.

I hope it will help you understand anxiety and how to strip its power over you.

Common Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety is an undivided part of our life. We feel anxious before meeting our crush, when giving a speech, going to the dentist, etc.

That is normal.

But if you experience these symptoms regularly, then you need to see a psychologist.

Panic attacks – It’s when you feel terrified, helpless, and you have a powerful urge to leave.

A panic attack is accompanied by symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a pounding or racing heart, feeling weak, feeling hot or cold, chest pain, sweating.

Usually, a panic attack lasts for a few minutes.

Headaches – When you experience headaches or pressure in the head.

Dizziness – It’s one of the scariest symptoms of panic attacks. But it will pass as soon as you calm down.

Shortness of breath – it results from hyperventilation (over-breathing). 

It occurs when your body is receiving too much oxygen and is spelling too much carbon dioxide. You become conscious of how you are breathing and have a hard time catching your breath.

An increased heart rate – During a panic attack the brain releases adrenaline which increases your heart rate.

Fatigue and exhaustion – Constant focus on fear and worrying makes us feel tired.

It makes it difficult to sleep. We might consume too much or too little food. And we procrastinate about exercising.

Causes of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety results from a combination of several factors.

Genetic predisposition – Some people may have a genetic predisposition toward anxiety.

Personality traits – Research suggests that children with particular characteristics are more likely to develop anxiety than others. 

Some traits are children who are easily concerned, inhibited, shy, or lack self-esteem.

Response to the challenge of adulthood– When people experience a period of high stress such as feeling trapped in an awful job or relationship; change in living arrangements; the death of someone they love; having babies, etc.

A situation where stress started accumulating to the point the person feels is way too much. 

People develop panic attacks in their twenties or thirties.

These factors have one thing in common:

They are not under your control.

So, there’s no reason for you to feel ashamed of suffering from anxiety.

It is your problem, not your fault.

Fight-Flight-Freeze

When you feel you are in danger, your brain has three options:

Fight- If it looks weaker than me, I’ll fight it.

Flight- If it looks stronger than me, I will run away.

Freeze- If it looks stronger and faster than me I’ll freeze and hope it doesn’t do something.

Doctor David Carbonell from the website anxietycoach said:

When people experience fear, panic attacks, or phobias, they instinctively treat it as a danger. They try to protect themselves with a variation of the fight, flight, freeze”.

It is a good thing when you are facing danger because you need to react fast.

When you feel anxiety, the brain gives the signal to the adrenal glands to produce hormones, adrenaline, and noradrenaline:

Adrenaline is the human fuel. It gives strength to the body to fight or run.

It increases the heartbeat, blood circulation, expanding the passages of the lungs.

Noradrenaline is the hormone of anger.

When we really need these hormones, we burn them, and nothing happens.

But when they are produced just by thinking, the body wants to burn them and gives you the anxiety symptoms.

Amygdala

The part of the brain that makes the fight and flight decisions is Amygdala. 

The amygdala works fast, without your conscious awareness.

Your amygdala is always watching for some danger. And when it sees one, true or false, opens flight and fight response, and fills you with fear. 

When the threat is real, that’s a good thing. But sometimes, the amygdala will make a mistake by seeing danger when there isn’t.

It learns by practice.

When you run away from whatever danger is, the amygdala is watching.

Running away from a murderer is a good thing.

But if you run away from a grocery store, a dog, a clown, any situation that makes you feel anxious, that is a bad thing.

Now your amygdala will see the supermarket, the dog, the clown, or similar situations as something dangerous. It will make you afraid next time you see one. 

It means that when you avoid and stay away from what you fear, your amygdala will make the same mistakes.

You are not giving the chance to learn something new.

You should train your amygdala, and you can do this by exposing yourself to a situation that gets you afraid.

Stretch the comfort zone

The best way to overcome a certain fear is by facing it.

You probably heard the expression, “get out of comfort zone”.

Well, getting out of your comfort zone might be too much for you.

You need to stretch the comfort zone.

You start by doing something small that makes you uncomfortable. Then you do something else that is a little more uncomfortable.

You gradually start increasing the difficulty level.

You’ll experience anxiety and probably panic attacks, but it’s crucial to keep doing what you planned to.

I know it’s very hard to handle the feeling of panic.

But think about it…

You are laying out the groundwork to overcome anxiety once and for all.

And as a bonus for your work, after you face fear, you’ll feel exhilarated.

Isn’t that worth it?

If you are reading this, I’m sure the answer is yes.

This exercise will give the amygdala a chance to learn that those situations you have been avoiding for months (even years) are not actually dangerous.

Always remember: Avoiding uncomfortable situations will give you tranquility in the short-term, but you are paying an enormous price in the long-term.

Misconceptions about anxiety

First, people with anxiety never experience a heart attack. 

During an anxiety attack, the body is preparing for a fight.

It fills all the vital organs, including the heart with oxygenated blood.

This process makes a heart attack very unlikely to occur.

A normal heartbeat is 60-100 beats/minute and during an anxiety attack, the heart rate goes over 100 beats. 

When this happens, they feel terrified, but this is a good thing because it shows that their heart is strong and healthy.

Second, people with anxiety tend to worry about going crazy. 

No one with anxiety has ever gone mad. 

Just because you realize that you have a panic attack shows you are not going crazy.

People that “go crazy” lose contact with reality while anxiety people are TOO much in touch with reality.

Third, what will other people think?

They worry that other people may think they are weird.

People around you don’t have a clue about what are you experiencing.

Fourth, many people with anxiety fear they will faint. 

It is impossible to faint during a panic attack.

Again, your body is full of adrenaline which gives you a great deal of energy.

Negative Thoughts

No matter who you are…

No matter where you live…

Even if you are at a Walt Disney level optimist, you’ll still have negative thoughts.

They bombard us all the time with the idea of positive thinking.

The problem with this idea is that the human brain evolved to think negatively.

Thousands of years ago, humans had 4 basic needs: Water, Food, Shelter, Sex.

But none of that would matter if you are dead.

The individual that walked carefreely was killed by an animal and didn’t leave descendants.

So, the basic and the strongest desire was and still is survival.

As we said, the brain is constantly scanning the environment for danger.

Its job is to keep you alive.

The brain generating negative thoughts is normal.

But negative thoughts become problematic when we give them all our attention, allow them to control us, or fight with them.

Here are some ways to deal with negative thoughts:

1. Label the thought– Instead of saying “I will blow this test,” say, “I notice I’m having the thought I will blow this test,”.

Instead of saying, “I’m a loser,” say, “I notice I’m having the thought I’m a loser”.

2. Thank your mind. When having an anxious thought just thank your mind for doing its job. “I hope the car doesn’t crash…”

“Thank you mind for trying to keep me safe. But there’s nothing you can do right now. I’ve got it covered.”

2. Dramatic stories. Sometimes we tell the same dramatic stories to ourselves.

So, the best way is to recognize the story and realize that it’s just a fake story.

“They think I’m a loser,” –> “Ah yes, the inferiority story,”.

Or, “The boss will realize I don’t deserve this job,” –> “Here’s the ‘I’m incompetent’ story,’.

3. Avoid Generalizations. Look for words such as all, every, none, never, and always.

What we say and think is important because they get recorded in the subconscious.

For example, “I always screw up,”.

Here, we need to balance the scales: “Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes it goes better than I thought. Sometimes it goes worse than I thought”.

4. Give logical arguments.

Use the logic to offer strong arguments against your inner critic.

“You’re worthless”. —> “Why do you think I’m worthless? Because you have no friends. Since when humans prove their worthiness by how many friends they have?”

“You can’t do anything right”. —> “No, I make mistakes from time to time. And it’s normal because no one is perfect”.

“People think I’m uninteresting”. —> “How can you know for sure what everyone thinks?

People have a lot on their mind and even if the interaction didn’t go as planned, they won’t bother thinking about it”.

“I’ve been miserable my entire life, why would anything change”. —> “If other people can change, so can I. And it’s never late to improve my life”.

10 Seconds

My psychologist taught me this trick to deal with panic attacks.

You can use it every time you feel nervous or uncomfortable.

Just breathe deeply, fill the chest with air, and hold it for 10 seconds.

Do it a few times until you feel comfortable again.

I know it sounds too easy to be true, but it works.

It fills the body with oxygen and it forces the brain to focus on breathing and not on producing negative thoughts.

This trick helps you prevent a panic attack or calming down faster if you are experiencing one.

Practice holding your breath even if you aren’t nervous. The reason is that it will be easy for you to apply when you really need it.

Quick Tips to Manage Anxiety

— The most important advice I can give you is to consult with an experienced psychologist. He/she will help you better understand yourself and also motivate you to act.

— Decide you will give your best to overcome anxiety no matter how many challenges you face.

Say to yourself, “It’s time to stop living like this,”.

— Redirect the attention. When you feel that anxiety is kicking in, redirect your attention to something else. Try to engage more in the conversation or notice the outside world if you are alone.

— Fear is the goblin that protects the treasure. You need to use fear as a compass. Does a certain situation make you feel anxious? Then face it.

Show your amygdala there is nothing to be afraid.

— Your goal is not to do what you want but what you need.

— Don’t wait until you feel confident to act. It doesn’t work that way. You need to act then fear will diminish.

— Emotions are temporary. Don’t give them too much importance.

— Even when you do things you weren’t able to do before, you shouldn’t stop. You need to keep challenging yourself. You need to raise your standards.

— If you experience a panic attack, keep going. Don’t sabotage yourself by going to “safety”.

— You Are Tougher Than You Think.

– You need to show pragmatism. Does this thought, emotion, event, help me achieve the goal? If yes, then everything it’s cool. If no, I show indifference towards it.

Sources:

“The Confidence Gap” by Dr. Russ Harris

“The Self-confidence workbook” by Barbara Markway, PhD