Managing Anxiety

Managing Anxiety

The ESO’s Student Welfare Officer, Jacqui White, provides useful breathing techniques and advice for those experiencing anxiety.

Some of the anxiety work that I do with my clients is based around an ‘anxiety wave’. I use the analogy of surfing. First, you are bobbing around in a calm sea and you can start to feel the wave building. Physiologically you can feel it, the tension starts to build, your heart rate increases and the adrenaline starts to flow. If you learn to manage your anxiety, you can surf the wave, ride the crest and ride it down the other side. If not, you are likely to get dumped by the wave, overwhelmed by its power and it will control you.

The wave will not keep building and building, the anxiety will build, reach a crest and die away. Notice the shape of your wave, stay with it, don’t try to fight it, breathe through it and know that you are in control and it will break soon. If you control your physical symptoms by slowing your breathing, focussing on your surroundings, grounding yourself in the present, where you are safe, and trying not to catastrophise, the wave will break sooner.

To use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:

  • empty the lungs of air
  • breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
  • hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
  • exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
  • repeat the cycle up to 4 times

Some people find it helpful to say a phrase over and over, like ‘I am safe’, ‘I am in control’ or ‘This will pass’.

If you are with someone who is going through an anxiety attack, sit them down and sit opposite them and get them to look at you and breathe with you (use the technique above and count with them.)

Anxiety thrives on uncertainty and in the current situation NOTHING is certain. You can either accept that and try to live in this moment or your mind will ‘catastrophise’ and think of all the worst case scenarios – that is human nature.

If you make a rule that ‘I will only worry about what I have control over’ then that will help to break the things you worry about into smaller, more manageable pieces. Most of what is happening to you right now is way out of your control and so worrying about it excessively is a waste of your time and energy.

And remember:

  • Things will get better eventually, and back to normal; the world is not collapsing (don’t go “catastrophic”)
  • Most people are good, and people are going to persevere and help each other
  • You’re tough, you’ve overcome challenges before; this is a new one
  • This is a particularly strange and unprecedented situation; humour helps once in a while
  • Live in the moment, think about today, less about the next three days, even less about next week; limit thinking about the next few months or years, for now