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Cheat Sheet

Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (UK Edition)

Do you have anxieties hanging around and building up? Don’t panic. Negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours can be controlled and conquered in very simple steps. Take a look at these varied tips and techniques to reduce and overcome your anxiety.

Overcoming Anxiety by Confronting Your Fears

No single strategy works more effectively in overcoming anxiety than exposure. Exposure involves putting yourself in direct contact with whatever it is that makes you anxious. Confronting your fears directly is one of the most powerful ways of overcoming them, and works well with the following conditions:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): A chronic, long-lasting state of tension and worry.

  • Social phobia: A fear of rejection, humiliation, or negative judgement from others.

  • Specific phobia: An exaggerated, intense fear of some specific object, such as a needle, an animal (a spider, maybe) or a situation, like being high off the ground.

  • Panic disorder: A fear of experiencing repeated panic attacks in which you feel a variety of physical symptoms, such as light-headedness, racing heartbeat, or nausea. You may also fear losing control, dying, or going crazy.

  • Agoraphobia: This problem often, but not always, accompanies panic disorder. You worry about leaving home, feeling trapped, or feeling unable to get help if you should need it.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Repetitive, unwanted thoughts jump into your mind and disturb you. This disorder can also involve various actions that you perform repeatedly as a way to prevent something bad from happening. Frequently, these actions don’t make much sense, but they make you feel better, safer, and less anxious.

Controlling Your Breathing for Five Minutes a Day

Figuring out how to breathe with your diaphragm is a key skill in overcoming anxiety. The diaphragm is the muscle that lies between your abdominal cavity and your lung cavity. Try this exercise to start breathing like a baby again. You may want to lie down, or you can do this while sitting if you have a large comfortable chair in which you can stretch out.

  1. Check your body for tension. Notice whether certain muscles feel tight or whether your breathing is shallow and rapid. See whether you’re clenching your teeth or whether you have other distressing feelings. You may rate your tension on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 representing complete relaxation and 10 meaning total tension.

  2. Place a hand on your stomach.

  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose and fill the lower part of your lungs. You’ll know you’re doing this correctly if your hand rises from your abdomen.

  4. Pause and hold your breath for a moment.

  5. Exhale slowly. As the air goes out, imagine that your entire body is deflating like a balloon and let it go limp.

  6. Pause briefly again.

  7. Inhale the same way slowly through your nose to a slow count of four. Check to see that your hand rises from your abdomen. Your chest should move only slightly and in tandem with your stomach.

  8. Pause and hold your breath briefly.

  9. Exhale to a slow count of six. At first, if you find that hard to do, use a count of four. Later, you’ll find that slowing down to a count of six is easier.

  10. Continue breathing in and out in this fashion for five minutes.

  11. Check your body again for tension and rate that tension on a scale of 1 to 10.

Try this exercise once a day for five minutes. You’ll find it relaxing, and it won’t add stress to your day by taking up much of your valuable time. Try it for five minutes for ten days in a row. After you do that, try noticing your breathing at various times during your regular routine. You’ll quickly see whether you’re breathing through the diaphragm, or through the upper chest like so many people do. Slowly but surely, abdominal breathing can become a new habit that decreases your stress.

Understanding When You’re Thinking Anxiously

In order to master overcoming anxiety, you have to be able to identify and overcome anxious thinking. People with anxiety generally think differently from other people. Look out for the following signs of thinking anxiously:

  • Approval addiction: If you’re an approval addict, you worry a great deal about what other people think about you.

  • Living in the future and predicting the worst: When you do this, you think about everything that lies ahead and assume the worst possible outcome, a type of thinking known as catastrophising.

  • Magnification: People who magnify the importance of negative events usually feel more anxious than other people do.

  • Perfectionism: If you’re a perfectionist, you assume that any mistake means total failure.

  • Poor concentration: Anxious people routinely report that they struggle to focus their thoughts. Short-term memory sometimes suffers as well.

  • Racing thoughts: When thoughts race, they run through your mind in a stream of almost uncontrollable worry and concern.

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