We've all been through those times when we've said or done something at work which leads to bouts of anxiety – an annoyingly familiar feeling. Whether it might have been a big thing or a small thing, it doesn't really matter – the symptoms of anxiety still feel the same. It might start off as that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your mind starts racing thinking of all the disastrous consequences to your words and actions. Before you know it, you're in the full throws of an attack and you wonder how you can manage your anxiety.
You might be tempted to phone in sick... oh, the temporary relief! However as the clock starts ticking away, before you know it your duvet day is over and you must prepare yourself to head back into the office and face it. You know you’re going to have a sleepless night worrying, which will only increase that sense of impending doom, racking up your anxiety level to full throttle.
What to do during an anxiety attack
So, how do you really control panic attacks and anxiety? As simple as it sounds, the best thing to do is a very natural exercise – breathing. When you first feel the panic attack coming on, take a slow and deep breath, hold it for a couple of seconds and then release. Repeat a couple of times.
The reason why focusing on the breath is the fastest way to controlling an anxiety attack is because it buys you a little time to calm your sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for your flight or fight mode – nature's defense mechanism for you. The trouble is that when your fight or flight response is engaged it cuts off rational thinking, making it difficult to think sensibly and makes it harder for you to beat stress at work. At times of stress you need clear vision, so slowing down your breathing helps to control anxiety by engaging your parasympathetic nervous system – your body's counter-response which calms your system.
To silence that critical voice in your head that usually leads to a panic attack, focus on your breath for two minutes. Use a soothing word as a trigger to help focus your mind, like "calm". Mentally say your word during your inhale, and on your exhale imagine all the stress and tension leaving your body. If you notice yourself going back to your worrying thought, bring your attention back to your trigger word until you feel your system calm.
The next step to this exercise for managing anxiety quickly is to think of the person you love the most and how they love you. Imagine that love as a warm ball of glowing light that you can hold in your tummy. This is your secret weapon as it helps soothe that nervous knot. It's also important to remind yourself that you are a unique human being. Being human means being fallible and making mistakes, mistakes don't mean we are unlovable or a disaster! Cut yourself some slack.
How to stop feeling so anxious all the time
The chances are the mistake you made won't be as big as you think. Sometimes all that's needed is an apology, whether to yourself or to a specific person, other times you will need to problem solve and offer an alternative solution. When you calm your system down, you allow your mind to start thinking again. Your mind is the most powerful tool you possess so let it do its job.
Calming down your system enables clear thinking which will help in managing overall anxiety and help you learn to find solutions faster. Holding onto that warm feeling of love soothes your system and shows you, you are not alone. You are loved and cared for and your wellbeing matters. Whatever is thrown at you at work or in life, you can handle it.
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