Anxiety – how to cope with it

Anxiety – how to cope with it

Anxiety is a strong feeling of worry or fear. It's not dangerous, but it can prevent you from living the way you want. Here are some advice on how to manage your anxiety.

What is anxiety?   

Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress and strong feelings of worry. It is the body’s alarm system being put on alert. This reaction comes from the nervous system and is not something you can control yourself.  

In addition to the body’s high level of preparedness, the heart rate also increases, breathing becomes faster and the stress hormones in the blood increase. Anxiety can be perceived as unpleasant, but it´s not dangerous in the moment – even if it feels that way. Usually, it eventually eases on its own. 

Why do I get anxious? 

The alarm system in the body is sensitive to situations that we perceive as dangerous. 

It can be triggered if you feel powerless and threatened, or by a thought or feeling that makes you fearful. Guilt, feelings of shame, or fear of abandonment are other examples of what can trigger anxiety.  

It can also be due to high demands from yourself and others. Even the very thought of getting anxious can make you scared and trigger anxiety. Anxiety is more easily aroused if the body is constantly put on high alert. 

Who experiences anxiety? 

Most people have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. Our genetic conditions affect how easy it is for us to become anxious. If you are exposed to extreme stress for a long time and your body’s level of preparedness is high, the sensitivity of your bodys alarm system may increase. As a result, anxious reactions can become common.  

Sensitivity can also vary throughout the course of your life. Anxiety is often more easily aroused in adolescence but can then decrease up to the age of 25. 
Although anxiety is common, few people talk openly about it. Anxiety is often associated with shame, and many people feel alone with their thoughts and worries. Accepting and talking about your anxiety can make it easier to deal with. 

How does anxiety feel? 

The body and mind are connected. It is thus only natural that emotions are both experienced and expressed with the help of the body.  

Everyone experiences anxiety in their own unique way and to different degrees – from diffuse anxiety or restlessness to strong physical symptoms. Anxiety is often described as a physical experience or a feeling of discomfort that involves the entire body: 

  • “For me, it's a tightness in my chest and a tingling sensation.”
  • “It feels like not being able to put up with anything at the moment, like I want to crawl out of my own skin.”
  • “I get nauseous and feel very uneasy.”
  • “It’s a cautious feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness.”
  • “Anxiety feels like a fireball.”

Panic attack or sudden anxiety 

Panic attack or panic disorder is a strong feeling of fear or anxiety that´s actually not connected to any danger. Since there is no clear threat, it is common for the attack to make you very scared. You may feel that you are fainting, dying or losing control.

Common reactions during a panic attack 

  • You feel dizzy and fear you will faint
  • Your heart beats faster.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling nauseous and breaking into cold sweat
  • Tunnel vision and sense of surreality 

You cannot die or go crazy from a panic attack. But since it´s often experienced strongly, it´s common to believe that there´s something wrong in the body and many seek medical care the first time it happens.  

Some only have a panic attack once, while others may suffer repeated episodes. Since panic disorders is unpleasant, it´s common to try to avoid situations, places, or feelings that you think could trigger an attack. If you have this kind of avoidant behaviour, it´s wise to ask for guidance at your local health care centre.

Three tips on how I can reduce my anxiety here and now 

  1. Interrupt your nerves with an activity, to shift the focus to something else. Find the ways that work best for you.
  2. Train yourself in mindfulness.
  3. Simple breathing exercises can help you manage your anxiety. 

How can I manage my anxiety in the long run? 

  • It helps to read up on anxiety. It can be reassuring to know that it´s not a sign of you losing control.
  • Ask for advice. The majority have experienced anxiety at some point. Ask others about how anxiety feels for them and tell them how you experience it.
  • Don’t run away from the unpleasant things in life. Anxiety doesn’t go away when you try to avoid your troublesome feelings – quite the opposite. But anxiety can decrease faster if you train yourself to take it easy, accept it and try to endure it in the moment. In the long run, you may become less vulnerable to anxiety. 
  • Physical activity is effective against anxiety and stress. Try to get your body moving every day.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. It prevents both stress and vulnerability for anxiety.
  • Try not to let the anxiety limit your life. If you feel that it is affecting your everyday life, it´s a good idea to ask for guidance at your local health care center or consult someone with experience. 

”“I suffer from severe anxiety and a friend gave me a piece of advice. I imagine I’m in a dark tunnel. I have to stay upright and keep moving forward. I can’t stop. Finally, I see a tiny light in the distance. It’s all about trying to tolerate and kill time until you reach that moment.””