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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Easing into transition

How to manage anxiety

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

As summer shifts into fall, the season of transition is before us. We feel the chill in the air, everyone is back from holidays, and the school year and kids’ activities start again. For some people, change can bring about worry and anxiety, especially if there is any sense of uncertainty.

Different people experience anxiety in different ways. Some may use words such as “nervousness,” “fear,” “stress,” “panic,” “freaking out,” or “butterflies.” But overall, anxiety is characterized by having overwhelming worry or thoughts that cause distress and interfere with your ability to function at home, work, or in the community. Anxiety can affect our relationships with others too.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • negative thinking
  • excessive worry
  • confusion
  • trembling
  • fatigue
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • upset stomach or nausea
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle tension
  • insomnia

Everyone experiences anxiety to some level, and there is no single cause for anxiety. Usually, a number of factors will contribute to how you experience anxiety such as genetics, your brain chemistry, and life situations. You are not able to control these factors. However, what we do have power over is how we look at and interpret things that we experience. Core beliefs about ourselves, thinking style, and behaviours are factors that we can change. We can work to improve low self-esteem, try to change our negative thoughts, and adopt behaviours that will decrease our anxiety and stress.

Try some of the following effective anxiety-reducing strategies.

Think realistically

Often times, we pay more attention to the negative, rather than the positive. Another thing that humans can do is to think of the worst-case scenario or down play our successes. So it is helpful to try to zoom out and look at the big picture. For instance, after a difficult workday, do not focus on all the things you didn’t do. Instead, make a mental list of all the things you did accomplish, and how well you did it.

Evaluate the benefits of worrying

If it is a situation that we have little or no control over, there is not much we can do. Sometimes we worry so that we feel we are doing something to try to control the situation. But sometimes this brings about feelings of hopelessness.

Examine your thought processes

Do you only see the worst possible outcome? Do you make broad interpretations from a single or a few events? e.g. After feeling awkward at a job interview, thinking “I am always so awkward.” Try to stay away from thoughts using the words, always, never and every. e.g. “I never do a good job at work.” Be careful not to jump to conclusions or assume what others are thinking e.g. “My friend can’t go out for coffee tonight. She must not like me anymore.”

Don’t try to be perfect

We often feel more anxiety when we want to be absolutely perfect at something. However, complete perfection is impossible for anyone to achieve. The end result is that you feel more worry and hopelessness because you will continually fall short of your goals. In fact, perfectionists tend to accomplish less because they spend a lot of time correcting and going over things again and again, trying to achieve an impossible standard. Meanwhile, a non-perfectionist could have accomplished twice as much work that is at an acceptable standard.

Talk about it

With any form of negative stress, it is always best to let out heavy feelings, rather than keeping them to yourself. Talking to a family member, friend, counsellor, teacher, doctor or spiritual leader will help you to feel better.

Find ways to relax

The behaviours and activities that you choose can be a powerful outlet for stress and worry. Some people find that journaling is a great way to sort out their thoughts and let go of anxiety. Playing a musical instrument or singing can serve as a creative outlet for stress. Stretching is one of the easiest anxiety-reducing techniques because you can do this anywhere. If you find that you are feeling upset or tense, take a stretch break to find immediate relief. Yoga is an activity that combines stretching, breathing exercises and meditation, which can result in inner peace.

When in doubt, turn to the Internet or YouTube to find a variety of information and videos on relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, which can relieve anxiety because we are often worrying about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Being mindful means accepting what is happening in the present moment, and not being judgemental.

It is important to manage anxiety before it happens, not just when we experience it. This decreases the chances of having emotional and physical problems down the road.

People gather bundles of sticks to build bridges they never cross. – Author Unknown

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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