Keep your anxiety in check

Depending on who you listen to and whose statistics are the most current, one of the most common mental health conditions is anxiety. The bottom line is that each and every one of us will experience anxiety at some time in our life. The concern is that, for many, it will become a chronic and debilitating condition.

Anxiety is a reactive warning system alerting us to an impending threat or danger. It's an inbuilt response system preparing us to either stand and fight or to flee the threat or danger we are facing. It's when we see threats and dangers at every turn that our reactions can become all-consuming draining our strength and blurring our focus.

So while anxiety is a useful survival mechanism, left unmonitored and unchecked it can become an uncontrollable burden - a far greater hindrance than the help which it is no doubt meant to be.

And it's interesting how we link problems such as anxiety with the animal kingdom. The problem is referred to as the black dog, the monkey on our back or the elephant in the room. In many respects it's our way of externalising what is an internal problem - of trying to separate ourselves from the issue at hand believing somehow that there is safety in distance.

But if we fail to deal with the problem of anxiety, to recognise it and break it down into something that is manageable in our everyday life, then we run the risk of feeding the beast. The process is one which can take some time but it's worth the effort involved in persisting.

And that brings me to a coping mechanism I have held dear for many years and it relates as much to anxiety as it does to so many other troubling issues in our lives...and it ties back into the animal kingdom.

The question is "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is simple "One mouthful at a time.''

Makes sense when you think about it.

Hints and tips

Want to feel better, more balanced, more controlled? Just breathe. Something as simple as our breath can serve as an anchor for our emotions...but only if we take the time to monitor it, appreciate it and understand it.

Active breathing should be undertaken for a few minutes of each day.

  • Find a quiet place and sit still. Lie down if you prefer.
  • As you breathe take notice of the process.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and feel the air moving, your lungs expanding and your belly moving.
  • Exhale at least two to three times as long as you inhaled.
  • Purse your lips and breathe out...slowly and deliberately.
  • If possible, repeat the procedure for five minutes or longer.

Gary Bentley is a counsellor with Rural Aid.

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