Seven everyday things you can do to conquer anxiety
Starting uni might seem like a daunting experience for most, but for those who suffer from anxiety this milestone is likely to be even more challenging. Anxiety conditions affect one in six young Australians, so coping with everyday life can be hard enough without adding in the stress of meeting new people and dealing with assignments and exams. If the thought of starting or returning to uni is making you feel anxious, psychologist Renee Mill shares some ways to conquer your anxiety.
Challenge your negative thoughts
The most important first step is being able to identify anxious thoughts and overcome them before they turn into negative thoughts.
“Let’s say a student takes a difficult test and then starts to think ‘I am going to fail, which will lead to me never getting a degree, which will result in me never getting a decent job, which will prevent me from living a good life, which may even mean I will be homeless'. This happens all the time and can continue obsessively,” says Renee.
“The student must be aware and stop at the first thought and challenge it. ‘Who says I am going to fail? Where is the evidence? Until I have the facts, I am not going to waste time and energy on worrying. I will distract myself and go for a run.’”
Renee says it’s important to exercise regularly to keep your anxiety bay, which student Tahlia Svingos agrees helps calm down her anxiety.
“Whenever I'm feeling anxious I go for a walk. Sometimes I chuck on calming music and other times I just listen to the birds and trees. Either way I always find myself feeling more centred.”
Renee also finds activities such as regular sport or yoga to be helpful for those living with anxiety.
The student must be aware and stop at the first thought and challenge it. ‘Who says I am going to fail? Where is the evidence? Until I have the facts, I am not going to waste time and energy on worry. I will distract myself and go for a run.’
Stay away from substances that increase your heart rate
According to Renee, lifestyle plays a big part in keeping anxiety at bay. She says it’s important to stay away from “…drugs that increase heart rate like nicotine, coffee, ecstasy and steroids”.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep deprivation can often exacerbate anxiety, with many studies finding a link between sleep disorders and anxiety disorders. Renee stresses the importance of getting eight hours sleep every night to help prevent anxiety.
Talk to friends and family
While exercise is one way that Tahlia calms down anxious thoughts, she says it’s not always possible to go for a walk in every situation. She says recounting her anxiety and talking about it with someone helps her.
“Sometimes I’ll call someone, a trusted friend or family member and just word vomit. I tell them all my feelings, the ins and outs.”
As well as confiding in friends and family, Renee believes it’s important not to isolate yourself.
“Social connections are linked to mental health. Make sure you socialise and interact with others every day.”
Write it down
In situations where you don’t want to talk about it, writing down all your feelings can be beneficial.
“If I don't feel like telling someone else, I tell myself,” says Tahlia.
“I get my notebook, which is in my backpack at all times, and write everything down. Sometimes I recount the events chronologically, sometimes I write advice to myself and other times I write it down like a friend is explaining the situation. It illustrates my anxious thinking, calming me down.”
Social connections are linked to mental health. Make sure you socialise and interact with others every day.
If you feel as though your anxiety is becoming overwhelming, it’s crucial you seek help.
“When a student feels overwhelmed, help must be sought immediately,” says Renee.
“This is because when you are anxious, your brain fires in a neural pathway which becomes thicker each time it fires. One panic attack is relatively easy to undo and rewire the brain. Ten panic attacks take a lot of work.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Renee Mill is the principal clinical psychologist at Anxiety Solutions CBT and author of Anxiety Free, Drug Free.