Getting Control of Anxiety
by Muriel Jarvis
Anxiety is a combination of feelings that create an overall sense of uneasiness and uncertainty. We all feel anxious at one time or another and it usually passes quite quickly. Most of the time, we feel anxiousness before a big presentation or event, and it is often a common feeling when some sort of stress is introduced into our lives.
However, sometimes anxiety can creep up without warning and an intense feeling of fear, panic and worry takes over. When these feelings are far more intense than usual they are known as a Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack.
According to family therapist Caroline Chow, symptoms related to Panic Attacks may include:
- Increased heart rate
- Laboured breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling dizzy, nauseous or light headed
- Shaking, trembling and excessive sweating
- Fear that you are going to go crazy or die
Some or all of these symptoms may occur suddenly without any warning. A panic attack causes you to feel great anxiety and uncertainty in a situation that normally does not bother you. Because they can appear spontaneously and seem unpredictable, panic attacks can make you worry constantly about when and where the next attack will occur. In all cases it is important to listen to your body and explore what is contributing to these attacks.
Try to avoid things like caffeine, as it may increase your heart rate and aggravate anxiety and panic attack symptoms. Getting adequate rest and eating a balanced diet can also help in your overall health. If you do feel anxious or feel a panic attack approaching, remember that it will soon pass.
To alleviate the symptoms of a panic attack, Caroline suggests breathing exercises, such as:
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
- Hold your breath to the count of “three.”
- Exhale slowly while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.
This often calms the body naturally.
Some people find it helpful to join courses or classes geared towards total body relaxation. These include meditation, tai chi and yoga. These help to focus your mind and body on relaxation and calmness. Activities like meditation and imagery exercises can easily be done at your desk or quiet corners if you are feeling particularly stressed or feel a panic attack coming on.
Caroline suggests that if you do feel as though you are having a panic attack or feel especially anxious, try paying special attention to how you are feeling and how you would rather be feeling. Ask yourself what the anxiety is trying to tell you about your self-care. Are you trying to do too much? Putting too much pressure on yourself to be perfect? Not spending enough down time? Not including enough fun in your life?
Don’t let anxiety take control of your life. There are many professional counsellors who can help you deal with it, and many relaxation techniques and courses. Get actively engaged in taking control of your anxiety and the positive rewards will be well worth it.
About The Author
Muriel Jarvis is the Executive Director of Family Plus/Life Solutions, a United Way agency in Saint John, with over 20 professional counsellors delivering counselling, education and wellness services.