First day at a new job, a big client presentation, a loved one suffering from an illness — there are various situations in one’s life where it’s natural for us to feel afraid. It’s a biological response to a threat, and is characterised by physical symptoms such as muscle tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath.
However, while fear is more a response to an immediate and present threat,
Anxiety is born from fear of the future, of the ‘what ifs’
It’s a state of mind that’s only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, with millions under lockdown and concerned for their health and that of their loved ones. Repeated episodes of such debilitating worry (pandemic related or not) that hamper normal functioning could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Examples include Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The latter becomes especially relevant in the current scenario, where fear resulting from the pandemic has seeped into every area of our lives, both professional and personal.
The characteristics of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Difficult falling or staying asleep
- Overthinking every situation and jumping to worst-case scenarios
- Procrastination (not to be confused with laziness) driven by a fear of failure
- Physical manifestations such as palpitations, nausea, stomach issues, and muscle tension
- Problems with concentrating on a task for long periods of time
- A constant feeling of not being in control
Situations that could cause anxiety
It’s important to note that these may not be the same for everyone — certain things that could trigger anxiety in one person have no effect on another. The only way to identify them for ourselves is to pay close attention to how we react to certain situations.
Possible triggers include:
- Major life changes of transitions — such as the loss of a loved one, having a baby, switching jobs, and so on
- Social situations including parties and get-togethers
- Excessive consumption of caffeine and/or alcohol
- Financial worries around bills, loans, mortgages etc
- Conflicts or disagreements at home, work, or school
- A tendency towards negative thinking that results from an inability to deal with uncertainty (e.g. not getting the job you want or not gaining admission to the college of your choice)
There is a silver lining in this cloud though. While anxiety can be difficult to deal with, it can be effectively managed.
Ways to manage anxiety effectively
Since it is an internal process, anxiety can take up a lot of mindspace and overwhelm you emotionally. One way to tackle this is through grounding exercises. These help you move out of an internal mindframe to focus on the external, the here, the now.
Next time you feel anxious, try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. It’s simple. All you need to do is acknowledge:
Five things you see around you
Four things you can touch around you
Three things you hear
Two things you can smell
One thing you can taste
Try the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise with Dr Divya Kannan (Audio guide)
It is an effective way to anchor your thoughts in the present and calm down the autonomic nervous system. It is another way to center yourself in the present moment, notice your thoughts non-judgmentally and in real time. Start with just five minutes a day, and use an app if you need guidance. With practice, you will learn to let go of anxious thoughts about the future, focus on the present and improve your sense of calm.
Therapy is a highly effective solution for those looking to get out of unproductive thinking loops. A professional can help you notice and recognize these patterns, and put in place a plan of action to help you combat the same. This could include challenging your negative thoughts, focusing on problem solving, and even setting aside a fixed amount of time to reflect on certain situations and their possible outcomes. Quite simply, a therapist can help you cope with anxiety by reducing avoidance and procrastination, thereby helping you feel more in control of your mind.
If you wish to speak to a therapist, you can book a consultation on the cure.fit app by clicking here.
In a day-to-day context, certain dietary choices could help manage anxiety. Stay away from caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, and increase your intake of fresh vegetables and legumes. Jasmine tea too is said to improve symptoms of anxiety. However, keep in mind that many studies related to food and anxiety are merely observational, so you must consult a doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.
Lastly, always remember that you are not alone — over 200 million adults across the globe suffer from some form of anxiety. Help is available, and there are multiple ways to manage this and lead a fulfilling life. It may feel difficult to take charge, but know that you have the power to understand and manage it.
Credits — Dr Divya Kannan, Clinical Psychologist at cure.fit