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Self care for anxiety

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Learning about anxiety

  • Learning about anxiety is central to recovery and helps you gain control over the symptoms. For example, education includes learning about the ‘flight-fight-freeze’ response, which is the body’s way of dealing with danger.
  • For people with anxiety disorders, this response is set off in situations, which are actually quite harmless i.e. there is a ‘false alarm’.
  • Learning about this response helps to take the mystery out of the symptoms and you will be less afraid of them.

Relaxation techniques

A person who feels anxious most of the time has trouble relaxing; therefore knowing how to release muscle tension is an important part of anxiety treatment.

Relaxation techniques include:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Meditation.
  • Isometric relaxation exercises.

The quickest and often most effective relaxation technique is "drop your shoulders!".

See the Fact Sheet on Relaxation and Breathing Techniques for more information or go to www.howtodothings.com/health-and-fitness.

Correct breathing techniques

The physical symptoms of anxiety may be triggered by hyperventilation, which raises oxygen levels and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood.

It really helps to learn how to breathe slowly and from the diaphragm (the muscle wall between the chest and the abdomen), rather than their chest, to reduce anxiety symptoms.

This is done by:

Steps to slow breathing:

  • Lie down on a flat surface.
  • Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest.
  • Breath in slowly and try to make your stomach rise a little.
  • Hold your breath for a second, breathe out slowly and let your stomach go back down..

It is important to practise this technique as many times as possible when you are not anxious (at least four times a day).

Like any skill it takes practice before it can be effective.

Physiotherapists, psychologists and others can help teach you this technique.

Avoid alcohol and drug abuse

It may seem that alcohol or drugs relax you. But in the long run they make anxiety worse and cause more problems.

Avoid caffeine

  • Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, “energy drinks” and chocolate.
  • Caffeine can increase anxiety, cause insomnia and even provoke panic attacks.
  • Avoid over-the-counter diet pills, and cough and cold medicines that contain a decongestant which also can increase anxiety.

Eat a healthy diet

  • Healthy eating can help reduce anxiety and stress.
  • Overeating, or eating a high fat diet, or not eating enough, can make you feel worse.
  • Make sure your diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Healthy eating is particularly important for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids eg fish, and in tryptophan eg bananas, may be helpful.
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