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A psychologist’s tips to deal with anxiety in today’s hectic world

The hectic world we live in can trigger anxiety and distress. We approached a psychologist for tips to deal with anxiety.

Pandemic, wars, political conflicts, economic crisis, not to mention low-quality living conditions, overexposure in media, stupidly high standards to reach thanks to social media, home office, the return to the offices, not being able to get a mortgage or even pay our student debts, and all this while trying to put a smile on our faces, can take us to the edge make us experience anxiety in all its levels.

We’re definitely living at a difficult time, and although there’s a constant narrative telling us we should suck it up and live our lives, or even that we’re just whining babies who want everything given to us, the reality is that living conditions have utterly changed in the past decade or so; trying to deal with life while witnessing the world’s chaos around us is no simple task.

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Anxiety has become one of the most common mental conditions around the world, and who could blame us?! So, while getting professional help is always the first, second, third, and fourth advice we can give you, we decided to approach a professional to ask for basic tips we can all follow when we’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what’s going on in the world, or simply when dealing with particular subjects.

We talked with Psy. Elisa María González Lozano, a Mexican psychologist with a master’s degree in Gestalt therapy, specialized in child therapy focused on anxiety. She explained that there are situations in life that can trigger anxiety or simply make us feel overwhelmed; this can have a blinding effect that prevents us from rationalizing the situation and seeing clearly what’s beyond what’s making us feel that way. In some cases, this feeling can trespass the mental and emotional barrier and actually cause physiological distress like insomnia, tachycardia, dizziness, rashes, unexplained hot sensation in the body, extreme sweating, and so on. For those moments she suggested eight basic techniques to regain control and ease that anxious feeling: “the idea here is to try them out and define what works best for each individual or each situation; one is no better than the others.”

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Here are the eight basic techniques you could try:

1. Breath

It might sound like a cliché, but breathing is one of the most basic techniques to relax our mind and body. The idea is to take deep and slow breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Make from five to fifteen breaths and only allow your mind to focus on each breath. This technique is basic for critical situations when anxiety is taking over our mind and body. By doing so, you’re not only oxygenating the bloodstream but regulating your heart pulse, giving you immediate comfort and relaxation.

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2. Relaxing from head to toes

For this one, you’ll have to lie down and stretch your legs. Put your hands on your belly or your chest and start breathing slowly. With your hands, feel each breath and start focusing on how each part of your body feels from head to toes. Do it until you feel the tension of the body disappear, and like in the previous technique, make sure you’re only centered on your body and the sensations you feel as simple as they might appear to be.

3. Mental vacations

This is a visualization technique that will allow your mind to go to a more relaxing state. Start defining a place you like that makes you feel relaxed. It can be any place, the beach, the mountain, your childhood home, that park you love visiting, etc. Visualize that place and start describing. You can do this individually or with someone you trust. Make sure your descriptions go beyond the elements you see, but also on things like how it smells, how’s the weather, how things feel on your hands or feet, who is in there, what are you listening to, etc. The more in-depth you go into your descriptions, the more you’ll help your mind get distracted and your body to release the tension and anxiety.

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4. Squeeze something real hard

This might sound extremely basic, but if you’re feeling extremely tense this technique might help you out more rapidly. It’s as simple as it sounds, take a soft object and simply squeeze it with all your might. It can be a plush toy, an anti-stress ball, a cushion, some fabric, some dough or clay, basically anything soft that won’t hurt your hands. You can also try it with your feet. This will help you release that physical tension and make you feel better rapidly.

5. Exercise

Again, this might sound like a cliche, but it actually has some scientific fundaments. When exercising, the mind gets distracted by channeling the energy to the physical activity, the muscles get relaxed, helping you to release the tension, and more importantly, you release endorphins that will give get you to a positive state of mind and mood. You don’t have to run the marathon, not even one block, walking, dancing, lifting something, jumping the row, swimming, or anything you want will do the job.

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6. Split your thoughts

This technique will help you get a bit more perspective on what you’re experiencing and where are you standing. The idea is to start listing your thoughts as if you were simply organizing a set of blocks by color. Once you’ve separated your thoughts you can now start putting into perspective if there’s something you can do about it or not, how can you tackle it, and so on. By the end of the exercise, it will be easy for you to focus on the things that actually concern you and that you can actually work on and push aside those things that have no real interference in your life.

7. Write

Putting your thoughts into words can work similarly to the previous technique in that it will help you organize and visualize them. Not only that, but it’s also quite effective in expressing your emotions and thoughts that sometimes we tend to keep for ourselves. Basically, the idea is to verbalize what’s going on in your head and express yourself by pouring out your soul. You can also resort to other creative and artistic activities like painting.

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8. Tackle the source that’s giving you anxiety

This one is more related to that anxiety produced by what’s going on with the world, though you can also use it for more personal issues. Analyze and determine what’s the source of your anxiety. In the case of news, see where are you getting your information from. Avoid all sorts of massive groups on social media (or even people around you) that tend to instill fear and panic. Give yourself a break from the news and social media and focus on yourself, or at least control your sources of information if you think it’s vital for you at that moment to keep yourself informed. Knowing what’s causing us such tension and distress is the first step to tackle it and take back control.

As González Lozano explained, these techniques might seem basic but they’re effective in allowing the mind to go somewhere else far from what’s causing distress. At the end of the day, what anxiety does is cloud our mind, and push us to obsess on particular things that only increase that overwhelming sensation. Applying whatever technique that works for you will make you take a step back, clearing your mind, and give you the tools to tackle those issues.

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Of course, as mentioned before, these are basic techniques that might work for determining problems; if none of these are effective for you or if you feel you’ve reached a point of no return, don’t hesitate and look for professional help.

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