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Ace Anxiety

Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 28 Jun, 2020

No one likes feeling anxious. But what if it ISN'T as bad as it feels? What if you could get back in control? Here's how to ACE anxiety.

You know, anxiety is such a pain, isn't it? It's the emotion most likely to cause us problems, but the thing is, it's also one of the most essential.

Anxiety helps us focus our attention where we need to, and it makes sure we don't miss anything really important. It warns us when there might be a risk. It acts like your brain's smoke alarm. It makes sure that you check out things that might be really important.

The thing is, like a smoke alarm, sometimes anxiety gets triggered when it really doesn't need to. It's like when your smoke alarm goes off just 'cause you're cooking toast. And your anxiety can get oversensitive and get triggered unnecessarily or just because things are unusual or new.

And sometimes things are uncertain, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do them, like taking exams or going on a first date.

The trouble with anxiety is anything in life that's really worth doing, anything that really matters to us, will almost definitely trigger some anxiety. 'Cause it's your brain's way of telling you it's important.

Thanks a lot, like you didn't already know that.

So how do you manage anxiety and make sure you stay in charge rather than it controlling you? It's all about acing anxiety.

Think ace, A-C-E. A is about anticipating anxiety. Don't be freaked out by it. Expect it. Anxiety is normal. It's not a mental health condition. It's part of the normal functioning of your human mind. Although when it becomes problematic it can become an illness in its own right. But remember anxiety's just your brain's way of telling you something matters, so don't be fooled by it. It doesn't mean the worst is definitely gonna happen. It just means check this out. Make sure you're okay. Have you got this covered? Anxiety makes sure you keep an eye on something that's important. So take a deep breath. You've got this. And now move on to C.

C is about challenging anxiety. You see, anxiety is more likely when something's new or you've not got used to it yet. Any change can make you feel anxious just because of this. It's so easy for your response to anxiety to just be to run away from things 'cause we hate that feeling. And in the short-term, running away, avoiding the thing that makes us feel anxious, it feels better.

But avoiding anxiety means that there's a level at which your brain starts to believe the only reason you avoided the worst is because you avoided that thing. Because you ran away, the bad thing didn't happen, and that means you have to just keeping running away, keep avoiding it, and actually, your anxiety grows 'cause somewhere your brain starts to believe if you ever don't run away, then you're really in trouble. What if you can't avoid the thing you're scared of and you actually do have to sit that exam or face up to your fears? Then you're really in trouble. So it makes life more scary, not less. Everything is scary when you're running away from it. So dealing with anxiety well is about facing your fears.

Think about how can you challenge your anxiety and do that in a way that you're in control, step-by-step, so that things start to settle down?

And step three, E, is about how you do that. It's about edging forward. Because so often the mistake people make with anxiety is they try and do it all at once. They go for the thing they're most scared of, try and do it, freak out, think that's it, I'm never doing that again, end of story.

Anxiety can be overwhelming, and if it flares up too strong it literally shuts down your rational thinking mind so you go onto a kind of emergency survival mode and all you can think is, get out, get out, get out. All you can think of doing is running. It feels like your capacity to cope with something has totally been exceeded. There's nothing else you can do. And sometimes this happens without us realising it and the physical sensations that are part of anxiety flare up, and these are so scary we get more scared, which makes them worse. And we get more scared, which makes them worse, and that vicious cycle can become a panic attack. And very often panic attacks terrify people so much, they never put themselves in those situations again.

But actually managing anxiety is about taking back control. So edge forward. Instead of throwing yourself in at the deep end, think what's the smallest step I could make towards facing this fear, towards challenging my anxiety? What would it look like just to have a go at that?

So if you're terrified of sitting in exam, maybe you can find a way you can go and stand in the room you'll take the exam, and literally just stand there. That's all you have to do. Easy, right? And you do that and you hold your fear, and you practise something like a breathing exercise or thinking positive thoughts or whatever it is you're gonna do. Take a mate with you, take a teacher with you, someone to support you, to hold the anxiety in that moment, and you keep practising and over time it will drop.

And when you can do that without it making you feel anxious, then you can take the next step, and the next one, and the next one. Bit by bit you edge forward, and gradually the level of anxiety those things will trigger will drop. So give yourself time, particularly if the scary thing you're facing is a big 'un.

But be reassured, you can do this, you can take back control. If anxiety feels like it's got you backed into a corner, you can win back ground. That's what managing anxiety is all about. Remembering who's boss. Anxiety is an alarm system. It was never designed to run your brain. Don't put it in charge. That is how you ace anxiety.

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