WE all feel on edge now and again. But constantly worrying, struggling to sleep and withdrawing from social situations are symptoms of anxiety which affect around eight million of us.
It can be debilitating, but anxiety practitioner and well-being coach Kamran Bedi believes there is a lot we can do to manage the condition.
He says: “People talk about having a lack of confidence, low self-worth and of experiences that have left them feeling as though they can’t move forward in their lives.
“But having anxiety doesn’t have to be something that ruins your life.”
Here, Kamran, author of new book The Anxiety Antidote, explains how to put a stop to anxious thoughts . . .
What is anxiety?
There are two aspects to your autonomic nervous system — the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.
When it senses a threat, the sympathetic nervous system will distribute energy accordingly, shifting your body and brain into a “fight or flight” response.
The “threat” could be external (what’s happening around you in your life) or internal — your thoughts.
Whether that threat is real or not, your body will respond as if it is, and prepare you to either face it (fight) or run away from it (flight).
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Meanwhile, the parasympathetic system helps your body to calm, centre, relax and digest, and assists in returning to “normal”.
Both aspects should work harmoniously, but if a person experiences too much stress, worry, negative thinking and feelings of anxiety, they may end up overly activating the sympathetic side, causing imbalances.
Three ‘anxiety antidotes’ to try
These methods will help you learn how to take control of the thoughts that make you feel anxious.
Pick one, depending on how you feel, and practise it for 30 days to develop the skill.
The key is to actively and consistently interrupt anxiety-inducing thought patterns to take their power away.
Antidote 1: The best-case scenario
Watching scene after scene in your mind of thoughts that are making you feel anxious?
Change the images and scenes inside your head by thinking up five to ten positive scenarios and situations that are not anxiety-inducing.
For example, if you think you’re going to act or look stupid in a social situation, change the narrative.
Think back to a specific time when you felt a sense of social ease and enjoyment.
Revisit this mental scenario and make it as vivid and real as possible in your mind.
Imagine yourself experiencing that again, to help train and refocus your thoughts.
If you cannot recall a moment like that, mentally construct one that will help you feel calmer within yourself
Antidote 2: The alarm code
Changing the flow and pattern of your breathing can do wonders for how you feel, both mentally and physically.
Sit comfortably, take a slow, long, deep breath, inhaling and exhaling fully to allow your lungs to expand and open.
Count each inhale and exhale 15 times.
Follow the breath in, keep your focus and attention on the inhale, and follow the breath out.
Try to make each inhale longer and deeper, exhaling fully between each breath.
Encourage your inhale to be soft as you inhale through the nose, and exhale fully through the mouth, as if you are gently blowing out a candle.
Direct each breath deep into your lungs by aiming to breathe into your stomach.
Allow your belly to expand and rise on the inhale and to gently fall and recede with each exhale.
Shifting your mind to the flow and rhythm of your breath will help you shift your focus away from anxious thoughts when you need to.
Antidote 3: The direct your body method
Uncomfortable feelings in the body usually recede when you work on thoughts that are troubling you.
Mentally pinpoint what you feel in your body when you’re anxious.
Churning gut? Trembling hands? Legs like jelly?
Notice the movement of these sensations and identify any patterns — forward and back, round and round, or perhaps pulsing? Is it fast or slow? Constant or intermittent?
Now direct your mind to the area where you feel the feelings and make the feeling change.
For example, “make it pause”, “make it still”, “make it reverse”, “make it weak”, “make it softer”.
- The Anxiety Antidote by Kamran Bedi (Watkins Publishing, £12.99) is out now.
‘It’s a struggle to leave the house’
TEACHING assistant Joanna Hillcock, 42, lives with husband Stuart, also 42, a designer, in Kings Hill, Kent.
They have three children – Oliver, 11, Luca, nine, and five-year-old Leo. Joanna says:
“I started feeling anxious aged seven. Mum took me to the doctor, but we were fobbed off and told I had “schoolitis” and just didn’t want to go in.
I found social situations really difficult. I have been prescribed antidepressants with varying degrees of success. I used Kamran’s breathing techniques a lot.
Just going to the shops with my children gives me anxiety, as I’m leaving the safety of my house.
But instead of allowing myself to feel overwhelmed, I took deep breaths and pushed the thoughts away until they were tiny.
I felt calmer and more in control.
The best-case scenario did resonate with me as I’m a worst-case scenario person.
The techniques helped me to control my anxiety.”