By Kyle Garnett
Special to the Express
Have you been wondering if you suffer from anxiety?
Many of us will encounter anxiety at some point in our lives. But at what point does it get in the way of life?
Know that anxiety is a flight, fight and freeze response to danger. So if you were in a true danger situation, your brain and body has an internal alarm system to keep you safe.
But as you go through life, many factors can contribute to anxiety becoming problematic which include genetic history of anxiety, environmental factors, situational stress, triggering life events such as a loss or change in life. Some of the symptoms that you may experience with anxiety include muscle tension, nausea, heart racing, muscle tremors as well as tightness in the chest. This is your body going into danger response. If you were in true danger, your body’s heart races for example, to help pump blood to the limbs so that you can flee from danger.
So what I would want you to know here is that anxiety is a very normal experience that I would never want to rid you of.
But often our alarm is going off at the wrong time, when there isn’t really danger present. So it is about retraining the brain to be able to detect when one is in true danger and when your internal alarm system is working overtime?
You may be wondering now how do I do this? The beginning of any type of anxiety starts with hyperventilating. So the first way of hitting the reset button on your alarm is to breathe and get oxygen into your body again. Then the symptoms slow down and the mind can start thinking rationally.
I recommend deep breathing 15 times daily, especially at the beginning. I get in my car, one deep breath, I have breakfast, one deep breath. All of the sudden your breath becomes a regular part of your day. With this daily practice, you are more likely to default to deep breathing when in a more aroused state.
Other great starting points for anxiety include looking at lifestyle factors such as level of use of alcohol, drugs, caffeine, sugar, ones eating habits as well as exercise.
The important point here is that anything that effects the central nervous system negatively puts stress on the body and thus one fires for anxiety that much quicker.
So you may start with making a lifestyle change goal such as reducing caffeine or making exercise a priority. Know that research has shown 30 minutes exercise three times weekly has similar benefits to taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Lifestyle factors are not about making quick fixes, but rather making lifestyle changes by creating healthy habits over time.
In addition, mindfulness is a great way to turn the volume down on anxiety. Often anxiety takes our mind to the past which is over and the future which has not happened yet.
Mindfulness is really about training the brain to stay with the only moment we are truly living the present. This takes time and practice.
I encourage you to research a mindful three minute breathing space which is a great place to start.
Another way to increase mindfulness in everyday life is to really ‘take in’ your current experience. What do you see, touch, taste, smell and hear? Overtime your mind stays with your body and experience.
The opposite of your anxiety response is relaxation.
So it is imperative to find ways to relax. We all are different in our ways to find relaxation but examples include walking, visiting a friend, time in nature, engaging in a hobby or maybe even doing something creative such as music or art.
These activities not only elicit a relaxation response but have the dual benefit of creating joy, connection, meaning and purpose.
Lastly, I would want you to know that anxiety is very treatable. Sometimes the hardest step can be identifying and acknowledging, hey I think I have something to work on here.
Once that volume of anxiety turns down, possibilities and life starts opening up again.
Kyle Garnett MSW, RSW, is a private counsellor in Red Deer.