What Is Anxiety?
By Adrian Sparrow
Most of us have experienced anxiety in various forms. Everybody has worries about their health, family, or money problems. Stage fright or “performance jitters” are other terms to describe anxious feelings before performing or presenting to an audience.
Anxiety is a feeling of dread, fear, or unease that might make you feel tense or restless. Physically, your heart begins to race, you begin to sweat, and your blood pressure rises. Anxiety is a normal stress reaction and can even help you focus or cope with a difficult situation. Events like taking a test or driving on a busy road can benefit from the increased attention that anxiety brings.
Sometimes we experience anxiety when there’s no prominent event to worry about. Anxiety can be a side effect or made worse by physical health conditions such as thyroid or heart problems and substances like caffeine and medications. This uneasy feeling doesn’t go away for people with anxiety disorders, and constant worry can significantly impact their lives.
There are several anxiety disorders. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and phobias are some of the most common. Also included are social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Difficult experiences in life are common triggers for anxiety problems. Going through trauma when you’re young may develop into anxiety problems later in life. These traumas might include physical or emotional abuse, neglect, losing a parent, bullying or social exclusion, or experiencing racism or discrimination. Having overprotective parents can also be a contributing factor to developing anxiety.
What is Grounding?
Anxiety can trigger dissociation, or feeling disconnected from the body or mind. Grounding techniques are coping mechanisms that focus on getting anxious people to “ground” themselves in physical reality and feel in control of their minds again.
Box breathing, or square breathing, is a simple technique to help calm a racing heart and rapid breath. Controlled breaths can offer relief from anxiety or panic attacks. Box breathing involves:
•Breathing in through the nose for 4 seconds.
•Holding one’s breath for 4 seconds.
•Exhaling through the mouth for 4 seconds.
•Repeat the cycle for 4 minutes, or until you feel calm again.
Another coping skill is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Engaging the senses is a helpful way to lessen anxious thoughts, as it brings your awareness away from racing worries and back to the physical present. This technique aims to maintain a sense of calm and control over strong emotions and slow down bouncing thoughts.
5: Acknowledge five things you can see
What do you see from where you’re sitting or standing? It could be a spot on the wall, a plant, or your hands.
4: Acknowledge four things you can feel
What do you feel? The ground under your feet, a rubber ball in your hand, the clothes against your skin?
3: Acknowledge three things you can hear
Close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds around you. It could be children laughing, the hum of an appliance, or the sound of your breathing.
2: Acknowledge two things you can smell
What do your surroundings smell like? Can you smell brewing coffee, flowery perfume, or wet grass?
1: Acknowledge one thing you can taste
This could be a mint, a meal you recently ate, or if you don’t taste anything at the moment, imagine one of your favorite tastes.
An anxious mind can have difficulty recalling tasks or coping skills in the moment. Practice these techniques while you feel calm and alert so that when anxious thoughts or panic set in, your body already knows how to respond.