Feeling Anxious? Here’s One Tool to Manage Your Thoughts
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health conditions in Australia, impacting 3.3 million of us. Feelings of nervousness and worry without the ability to calm down, feeling tired easily, having difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and muscle tension are all common symptoms of anxiety. Because of the way these manifest – developing over time – it can be hard to know exactly when to seek support.
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There are several types of anxiety disorders, the most common being Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder. These can be diagnosed by a health care professional (doctor, psychologist, therapist) using the ‘K10’, an evidence-based checklist that asks you ten questions about feelings and emotions you’ve had over the previous four weeks. Questions aim to understand how tired you’ve been, how often you’ve been nervous, how often that nervousness has meant you could not calm down, how often you feel hopeless, and more.
Anxiety is often called the ‘What If?’ disorder. Those with diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or other anxiety-based symptoms tend to think in the ‘What If?’. For instance:
- Everything is fine now, but what if something changes?
- I love this person, but what if they don’t love me?
- I’m doing good work, but what if my boss doesn’t think so?
By thinking in this negative pattern that does not represent the facts as they are now, anxiety can get the better of us.
As you can see above, anxiety’s trick is to make you focus on the future instead of the present. This is bad for several reasons, the first simply being that you worry where you often need not. Secondly, when your brain questions and worries about what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months, you miss out on the joy that can be the present.
If your anxious thoughts are getting in the way of your day-to-day activities, it may be time to seek support from a professional. There are tools and tips that qualified therapists can support you with to help you focus on the present and diminish anxious thoughts (see our favourite, below). If that doesn’t work for you, your healthcare professional may be able to prescribe medication to help keep anxious worry at bay.
EXERCISE: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This exercise will take you through simple steps to relax your muscles, one-by-one, in a way that also brings your awareness back into your own body and your mind back to the present. Used to regulate your emotions and shut off a racing mind, Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be a great tool to help you to fall asleep if your anxious thoughts are repeating over and over in your mind.
- Start seated or lying down, in comfortable clothing if able. Remember to take your time, this is not a race.
- Become aware of how each of your toes feels. Are they rested or are they tight? Give them a little wiggle until they relax.
- Move up to your ankles. Do they feel stuck or loose? Shake them out until they relax. Start with the left one, then the right.
- How about your calves? Concentrate on relaxing them, too. You can do this by tensing them tight, and then releasing, as often as you need.
- Continue this pattern, moving up your body. Relax your knees, your thighs, your glutes, your genitals, your lower tummy. Take a deep breath in and out when you get to your chest, so you can stretch and release your ribcage.
- When you get to your arms, do the left first, and then the right. Wiggle each finger and stretch them out until they feel loose.
- Turn your neck from side to side, up and down, until it stretches and sits comfortably on your shoulders. Most of our tension is kept in the head and neck, so take your time with this part.
- Open your mouth as wide as you can, stretching and then relaxing your jaw. Once it’s unclenched, sit with your tongue resting softly at the top of your mouth.
- Slowly move your eyes under their lids from side to side, up and down, and around in circles. You should not feel like you’re frowning when your eyes are closed and relaxed.
About the author: BARE Therapy is an Australian-based counselling service. Certified Practising Counsellor, Tammi Sue, enables clients to work through their ‘stucks’ to live better lives. Find out more – @bare__therapy.