Understanding Anxiety: What to Do When Everything Feels So Overwhelming?

What is anxiety? Why do you feel that awful sense of dread when you encounter stressful situations? Is there anything you can do to stop yourself from spiraling out of control? Yes, there is. Anxiety is a natural and understandable reaction to situations that trigger your fight-or-flight response. Luckily for you, there are ways to cope with it.

To understand anxiety, you should know how your body works in response to stress. Any stressful situation triggers a cascade of hormones in your body. These hormones produce physiological changes such as a racing heart and shortness of breath. You are probably familiar with these symptoms – they are what you feel when you are experiencing an anxiety attack.

Good Anxiety versus Bad Anxiety – How to Tell the Difference

It may not be much of a consolation, but anxiety is your body’s way of protecting you. It is a survival mechanism that enables you to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Good anxiety is what makes you fight, or flee from danger.

Unfortunately, your body may overreact to stress. You may be triggered by situations that are not life-threatening such as work pressure. The result is extreme physical symptoms that you struggle to control. Experiencing chronic stress takes a toll on your body and causes bad anxiety.

Anxiety is harmful when it gets in the way of your normal, day-to-day activities.

Below are some symptoms of anxiety:

  • Fast, irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic worry
  • Inability to relax
  • Chronic worry
  • Nervousness
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor personal hygiene

What to Do When Anxiety Strikes

You were having a good day until you got into it with a coworker. Perhaps it is a family sit-down that left you stressed. At times, something as simple as traffic on your way to an important meeting can be your undoing. Anxiety often strikes without warning. At that moment, you desperately search for a way to keep yourself calm.

Knowing how to deal with anxiety when it strikes takes a lot of practice. Here are a few quick tips for you.

Take Deep, Slow Breaths

When your heart beats erratically and you start running out of breath, knowing that everyone is watching only makes the situation worse. There is no better way to slow your heartbeat than taking a deep breath. It might be hard to get a hold of yourself, but slow breathing can be calming.

No matter where you are when the anxiety sets in, remind yourself to breathe. Give yourself a specific number of breaths to take as you gain composure. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth at least 3 times.

Challenge the Voice in Your Head

Although some anxiety triggers are external, your thoughts matter. The voice in your head might be so loud that it beats logic. Challenging your thoughts helps you be reasonable in the midst of a stressful situation.

Knowing how to stop anxiety thoughts starts with admitting that the voice in your head is not always right. Your opinions are subjective; they are based on many factors that may not be accurate. So, when you get stressed, take a pragmatic approach. Question your thoughts and try to see things from a different point of view.

Write Down Your Thoughts

Have you ever thought something was true, only for it to sound ridiculous once you say it aloud? When you are stressed, you might not feel confident to speak your mind. Writing, however, offers a great outlet for your thoughts.

Carry around a journal that you can access easily at any time. Whenever you are anxious, list your thoughts and review each of them. In the process, you might realize that your fears are exaggerated.

Shift Your Focus to Something Less Stressful

Anxiety feeds on specific triggers. These may be external or internal. When you are triggered, your first reaction will be to panic. Focusing your attention helps you take control of the situation.

For example, if you get stressed in crowded places, your best bet would be to avoid them. If you have to be in a crowded place, plug in your earphones. Listening to your favorite music might help you relax and shift your focus. There are mental exercises that help you focus away from your stress. Reciting positive affirmations is also helpful.

Dealing With Chronic Anxiety? Use These Long-Term Coping Strategies

How to overcome anxiety when you have been dealing with it for years? Despite knowing what to do when having an anxiety attack, it may not be enough. Chronic anxiety requires strategic management. Various coping mechanisms, if repeated over a certain period, will help you lead a stress-free life.

Identify and Manage Your Triggers

To deal with anxiety, identify its cause. Here are some factors that might trigger you:

  • Work stress
  • Family conflicts
  • Relationship issues
  • Daily inconveniences e.g. traffic
  • Past trauma

The best way to identify your triggers is by keeping a journal. Each time you get stressed, write down the cause. Look for patterns and come up with a plan. Most times, avoiding the triggers is sufficient. If you cannot avoid the triggers, read on to know how to cope.

Keep Your Focus on Things That You Can Change

It is frustrating when your anxiety is caused by something out of your control. You might struggle to cope because it’s not much you can do to change the situation. Understandably, you feel helpless. What you should do is focus on things within your reach.

Train your mind to focus on aspects of your life that you have control over. Although you cannot change your triggers, you can change your reaction to them. Focus on working on your mindset, seeing results will motivate you.

Practice Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation encourages you to be present at the moment. During difficult situations, it helps to be aware of yourself and what is going around you. Accepting your situation without judgment can help you be at peace.

While meditating, listen to your body. Your thoughts might cause physical reactions like stiffening, racing heartbeat, quick breaths. However, you will embrace these feelings without allowing them to control you. You will be aware of them, and let them pass without losing your cool. This is a skill that comes in handy during an anxiety attack.

Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

Managing anxiety might be as simple as eating healthy meals, exercising, and getting enough rest. By taking care of your physical wellbeing, your mental state improves. Exercise, in particular, is known to release good hormones that improve your mood.

Get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Struggling to overcome anxiety on your own? Get therapy from a licensed counselor. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is particularly helpful. It equips you with skills to identify and manage your triggers. In the heat of a stressful moment, skills acquired from CBT will help you cope.

How to Deal with Anxiety During COVID and Difficult Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life stressful for many people. Being away from loved ones, losing income, and living with a sense of impending doom is overwhelming. Although things feel hard right now, you should remember that this situation will not last forever. In the meantime, here is how to deal with feelings of anxiety.

Connect with Others

Despite social distancing measures, try to stay connected with others. Take advantage of technology to talk to family and friends. Isolating yourself may do more harm than good for your mental wellbeing.

Create a Routine

In unusual times, routines can give a sense of stability. Even if you never leave the house, have a routine. It may be as simple as getting out of bed to shower and cook, but it will help. The sense of accomplishment after sticking to your routine each day may be a source of motivation.

Take in Nature and Enjoy the Outdoors

Wondering how to deal with anxiety without medication? If you can spend time outside, do it. Enjoy nature, take long walks, and explore as much as possible without contravening social distancing guidelines. It is okay if you cannot go out – simply spending more hours in the room that gets more sunlight is helpful.

The Bottom Line: You Can Survive Episodes of Anxiety

Overcoming anxiety is not easy. During stressful times, it can feel like all hope is lost. The good news is that you can fight the feeling. Write down your thoughts, focus on the positive, and breathe whenever you feel overwhelmed. Take time to identify your triggers and find ways to manage them. If you are struggling to cope with anxiety, consider therapy. Working with an experienced counselor can help you identify the cause of your episodes. Together, you will develop strategies to overcome anxiety.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more