Most people may associate anxiety with worrying excessively about everything, turning a slight concern into a worst-case scenario, and fearing being out of control of yourself and your life. Anxiety can keep you locked in worry and fear about a future yet to happen. Those worrisome thoughts add up to ‘cognitive anxiety’. Yet, when the fight-or-flight response kicks in, you may also experience a flurry of symptoms in your body – otherwise known as ‘somatic anxiety’ – which may go beyond a few butterflies in the stomach.
The seven factors included in Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are:
- Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge.
- Not being able to stop or control worrying.
- Worrying too much about different things
- Trouble relaxing.
- Being so restless that it’s hard to sit still.
- Becoming easily annoyed or irritable.
- Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen.
It’s the severity and frequency of these seven symptoms that can determine if you have GAD.
The physical/somatic manifestations of anxiety can include the following:
- Feelings of panic.
- Chest pain.
- An increased or irregular heart rate.
- Stomach ache.
- Aching muscles.
- A change in appetite (eating a lot more or losing appetite).
If you are concerned that you are experiencing several of the above symptoms then book an appointment with your GP, who can advise on next steps to support you (which may be through medication). While we can’t comment on the appropriateness of medication for you as an individual, we can offer some tips for you to try to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Self-help ways to soothe your symptoms of somatic anxiety…
Catching your breath and slowing down your breathing is the first step to taking back control of your body. Aim to breathe deep into your abdomen, rather than from your chest. Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe in for the count of five, and out for the count of seven. The longer out breath will help regulate your breathing and help you feel calmer and less jumpy.
2. Calm your senses
When the brain is anxious it can interpret external triggers as threats to your very being. Using a ‘54321’ mindfulness technique can help comfort and reassure your nervous system. Think about engaging all five senses to bring you back into your body and so you can consciously focus on being grounded and calm, taking your focus away from the perceived threat.
- Find five things to look at in your surroundings.
- Listen to four sounds round and about you.
- Identify three things you can feel (this be an item you can stroke, like a cushion, or it may be the feel or your bag on your shoulder).
- Find two things you can smell.
- Discover one thing you can taste.
3. Relax your muscles
Tense and relax muscle groups over your entire body. You may want to start with your toes, then your whole foot, then your leg etc. Working your way up your body, alternately tensing and relaxing, can work effectively and quickly on your somatic symptoms.
4. Try a ‘butterfly hug’
Wrap your arms across your chest, as if giving yourself a hug. The tips of the fingers should reach the collarbone. Now pat your arms, alternating hands, like the wings of a butterfly. You can keep your eyes open or closed, but as you reach a rhythm with your ‘wings’, ensure to breathe deeply to help calm you.
5. Go for a vigorous walk
Walking is good generally for fitness and wellbeing, but going for a walk when you are anxious – especially in open, green spaces – can help soothe your anxiety. The act of putting one foot in front of the other gives you a purpose, while stomping out your stresses can help you feel more grounded and connected with yourself.
If your anxiety symptoms are becoming too much for you then you may think about seeking professional help. Trained therapists can support you to identify ways to make life more manageable and to help you gain perspective on your triggers. To book an initial appointment with one of our therapists, call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected].