The truth is that we all get anxious from time-to-time. The feelings of worry, nervousness and restlessness that characterise anxiety are familiar to us all. Anxiety is a normal emotion and can even be of benefit to us in certain circumstances. Anxiety in part stems from our evolutionary fight or flight response. It enables hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to be released as we get ready to take appropriate action to a threat that arises. Anxiety can obviously also become a problem when somebody finds themselves anxious about everyday things that pose no particular threat. This kind of anxiety over the long term is very unpleasant and can lead to further problems.
Why do People Develop Anxiety?
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we experience as humans. It can have an incredibly strong effect on both your mind and body. Fear can create a strong and helpful response when we are confronted with an emergency such as being attacked, or there being a fire. But it can also take effect in non-emergency situations. I imagine we have all experienced some degree of anxiety when being confronted with things like exams, public speaking, starting a new job and so on. It is a natural response to a threat either real or imagined. Where anxiety becomes a problem is when our fear id based on something that may happen in the future rather than an actual threat right now. There is a difference between experience anxiety for 5 minutes as you evacuate a burning building and spending every night for 3 months anxious about taking an exam or giving a speech. This type of anxiety can take over your life. You can’t eat or sleep, and the worry of what could potentially happen becomes crippling. You may not want to leave the house or pursue things you enjoy. It can be hard to break this cycle, but there are lots of ways to do it. You can learn to feel less fearful and to cope with fear so that it doesn’t stop you from living.
Confront your fear
The most obvious way to overcome your anxiety is much easier said than done. It is to confront your fear. If the thought of giving a speech in a few months is overwhelming, practice giving speeches in advance in front of friends and family, or even just in front of the mirror to build your level of comfort. If you are worried about that exam, make sure you study and take practice tests. It will enable you to feel more confident that you are able to get through this. Exposure to fear always reduces anxiety. It also helps to take a step back and to try and put things into perspective. If you fail the exam, so what? There are billionaires who do not have high school diploma’s, so what does it matter if you fail. Again, I have to emphasise that all of this is easier said than done. This is helpful for those with mild anxiety, but for those with severe anxiety it is not always this simple.
What else can you do?
It isn’t always easy to jump in the deep end and confront your fear, but there are other things you can do that can help you to slowly overcome your anxiety. These may seem trivial, but they do make a huge difference. The first is exercise. Anxiety causes your body to release adrenaline, so by exercising you have an outlet to burn off this adrenaline and replace it with feel good endorphins that will make you feel calmer. Exercise is proven as one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and improve your mood. The second is to avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, so if you are feeling anxious or depressed, although you may experience a positive buzz in the moment, the chemical response in your body as the effects wear off will actually make you feel worse. The third is to take up some sort of relaxation or mindfulness practice. This may be something like yoga, or listening to a meditation app like the calm app. When it all feels overwhelming, you will be amazed at how taking 10 minutes to do a brief breathing exercise via the app makes a difference.
Finally, remember that it is also OK to speak to a mental health professional if it gets too much. Talking through your anxiety is important, especially for those of us who are male. The whole concept of needing to “man up” is one of the key reasons why nearly 70% of all suicides are committed by men. Life can get on top of all of us from time to time, needing to ask for help, does not make you weak.