Anxiety is normal. Whether you’re worried about a promotion, a big move, or the health of your pet, everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another.
As Healthline explains, Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress – when we feel fear or apprehension over what could happen in the future. However, if your anxiety is lasting for months, if it’s interfering with your life, or if it seems particularly extreme, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
What are the symptoms?
Severe anxiety disorders can cause people to avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings, interfering with your daily life and overall happiness. Symptoms can start during childhood or during the teenage years and continue into adulthood.
According to the Mayo Clinic, those symptoms can range from mild discomfort (feeling nervous or restless, for example) to more extreme reactions (hyperventilation, gastrointestinal problems, sleep issues, for example). See the full list here.
These symptoms are physical and emotional responses to perceived dangers that often aren’t real. Most people don’t find themselves in life-threatening situations regularly, but our modern society has found ways to trick our brain. As a result, it can often be little things that trigger our anxieties: morning rush hour, not being able to find your keys, daily meetings at work. Fortunately, there are things we can do to combat these stressful situations.
When a stressful event happens, milliseconds pass before our brains translate and interpret what happened. As this article explains, the initial sensory input is acted upon by the various neural patterns and filters within our bodies.
However, thoughts are different from perceptions. Thoughts are merely how we react to our perceptions. It’s for this reason that many thinkers teach that we are not seeing reality as it truly is. Rather, we view it through a filter of past experiences and neural networks.
By taking a breath to contemplate how our thoughts react to our perceptions, we are able to stay in the moment, rather than worry about what’s coming around the corner. Since anxiety is a reaction to these future unknowns, staying present can help center us and enable us to face these unknowns calmly and rationally.
But “staying present” isn’t always easy. Indeed, many followers of religious and spiritual traditions dedicate their whole lives toward mastering this concept. However, most people probably don’t have the capacity to spend years sitting quietly in a monastery in order to get a handle on their anxiety.
So what can be done here and now to stay present and get our anxiety under control?
Start the day at a slow pace
Don’t jump out of bed running. Begin your day at a relaxed pace, focusing on each of your early-morning tasks individually.
This helps avoid stress first thing in the morning, which can produce a cycle that perpetuates throughout your day, causing you stress and anxiety.
Instead, try and find the joy and stillness in the slowness. Then, as your day continues, try to take additional tasks slowly when you can.
Just take a breath
Most meditation techniques begin with concentrating on the breath and for good reason: Breathing is one of the few constants in life. We all need to do it to survive.
Take a deep breath and exhale through your nose. According to Psychology Today, breathing through the mouth can actually trigger a subtle anxiety response, increasing heart rate and redirecting blood flow.
A slow release of breath out of the nostrils can actually have a calming effect and create a relaxation response.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself
As this WebMD article points out, anxiety can often cause us to fixate on the worst-case scenario.
In order to combat these concerns, start by thinking about how realistic they are. If you’re nervous about having to deliver a speech, instead of thinking “I’m going to do terribly,” try saying “I’ve prepared for this and I know what I’m doing. Some things will work and others won’t. That’s okay.”
This pattern of rethinking your fears can help train your brain to invent a way to handle anxious thoughts, the article explains. In this way, we are able to become aware of what we’re doing and bear witness to it. We can observe our feelings and then put them aside.
By recasting these anxious thoughts about the future, we are able to remain in the moment. Sure, things may not go as planned, but nothing can be done about it now, so we can return to the present moment.
Avoid becoming stuck in a routine
If you find yourself doing something out of habit, stop and try and do it a different way.
This even applies to destructive habits. Indulge yourself, but remain mindful of the process. You get to choose how to make the actions different. (Try lighting a cigarette with the opposite hand, for example).
By reframing what would otherwise come naturally, we become aware of the moment and are thus able to remain within it.
Return to your breathing
Anxious thoughts are normal. Our daily lives are a barrage of stimuli that intrude on our thoughts and make us think about what’s on the horizon. That’s okay.
What isn’t okay is how we respond to those stimuli. So, if you do find your thoughts getting away from you, simply return to your breathing.
Inhale and release through your nostrils. This pattern of breathing can help us return to the present moment.
It may take time, but don’t give up
Being present doesn’t come easily for everyone. Thousands of years have been dedicated to the very simple idea of remaining in the moment. Worrying about what’s coming only results in stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps that the average person can implement in their lives to help them remain present and stop worrying about the future so much.