Whenever I’m asked ‘what does anxiety feel like?’, I struggle to find the words to articulate it. The truth is, it’s hard to understand what anxiety feels like unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. Everyone’s experiences of anxiety are different, because it affects each person in a different way. For me, anxiety can feel like that mini heart attack you experience when you miss a step as you’re walking down the stairs, except, your heart never stops rapidly beating and the butterflies in the pit of your stomach continue to lurk.
Anxiety can trigger a multitude of different physical symptoms including; dizziness, sleeping problems, restlessness, nausea and panic attacks. But sometimes, it’s the mental impacts that can feel more intense: the overwhelming sense of dread, the feeling that everyone’s looking at you and can sense you’re anxious, the disconnection between your body and your mind, the fear of a panic attack looming, and the feeling that the world is drastically speeding up or slowing down. You may experience just a few of these or all of them, but even feeling just a couple can feel extremely debilitating.
The difficulty is, anxiety can appear out of nowhere and hit you like a tonne of bricks. Sometimes, it’s easy to identify the reason why you’re feeling anxious and other times, you may have no idea at all, which can intensify the feelings of panic even further (talking from experience here!).
However, one thing I’ve found to be helpful in coping with anxiety is having a ‘mental toolkit’, with tips and techniques ready for when those waves of anxiousness take over. The more ‘tools’ you have in your mental toolkit, the easier it may be to help curb your anxiety.
I’ve compiled some suggestions of various tools and techniques that you can add to your ‘mental toolkit’ so that no matter where you are, or when your anxiety hits, you’re ready to help face it head on.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.” – Dan Millman
Tools & Techniques:
- Recognise and accept the feeling: Sometimes, when your anxiety takes over, it can feel like fighting a losing battle. Recognising and re-framing the way you look at the feeling are key steps in overcoming your anxiety. Whenever you feel your anxiety bubbling, take a moment to pause, identify the feeling and accept it. Say it out loud if you want to, or to yourself in your head. If symptoms begin to develop, say to yourself “I’m feeling anxious. It’s just a feeling, it’ll pass and I’ll be okay” and repeat it until you believe it. By refraining from fighting against the feeling, you’re placing the power in your own hands and not letting your anxiety win!
- Challenging catastrophic thoughts: Catastrophizing is something we’re all guilty of doing at some point in our lives. This is when we imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation, and anxiety likes to make us do this a lot! An example of this could be: You’ve made a small mistake at work but you think you’re going to lose your job.
Challenging catastrophic thoughts sounds like an impossible task, but asking yourself simple questions such as, “What’s the worst that can really happen?” “Will it still affect my life in a month or a year from now?” and “Is it really that bad, or is it my anxiety making it seem bad?” will help combat the negative voices in your head and help you prepare yourself for how you would cope.
- 3-3-3 technique: When you’re feeling anxious, it’s easy to let your mind take over and make you worry about what might or might not happen – that’s why focusing on being in the present is a useful way to help keep your brain centered. A well-practiced technique to do this is the ‘3-3-3 rule’. This is a great way to apply a bit of pressure to the brakes when your anxious-ridden-mind is going 1000 miles per hour and will help bring you back to reality. The next time you’re feeling anxious, look around you and name 3 things you see, 3 sounds you hear and then move 3 parts of your body.
- Take a moment (or two) to just breathe: On a day-to-day basis, breathing is typically something that we don’t think about, we just do it. However, when anxiety takes over, our breathing typically can go from steady and regulated, to feeling like someone has wrapped their hands around your lungs and is squeezing every last particle of oxygen out of them. Practicing simple techniques which are wholly focused on just breathing can significantly ease your feelings of anxiety. There are many effective breathing exercises that you can begin to implement into your daily routine so you feel prepared for when you’re in need.
You may have other techniques which you already know work for you, these can be popped into your ‘toolkit’ should they be required in times of need. We also have a huge range of tips on the Feelmo Instagram page which can help you manage many other feelings you have.
Feeling anxious can be extremely daunting and frightening, but having your ‘toolkit’ with you at all times and regularly utilising the contents may help to alleviate some of the mental and physical feelings you may be experiencing and help you get through everyday life!