Anxiety: What helps?

Sep 26, 2022 | Blog Articles

Do you feel like you have butterflies in your stomach? Is your heart rate way too high? Do you have tension in your shoulders, belly, neck or jaw?

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, and over the last two years, many people have, for the first time, started feeling an underlying sense of anxiety or uncertainty for the first time about what their future may hold.

At the Quest for Life Foundation, we’re hearing from increasing numbers of people looking for strategies to minimise their anxieties and worries. After over three decades, working with people who experience anxiety, we’ve identified practical strategies that make a profound difference.

If anxiety affects your life, our self-paced online course delivered over four modules can assist you to live free from anxiety’s debilitating effects. We also offer online courses on burnout and improving your sleep.

Befriending Anxiety is based on the latest research in neuroscience, epigenetic and evidence-based healthy lifestyle habits, so you can restore and replenish. It is delivered by Quest CEO and Founder Petrea King and facilitator Margie Braunstein, who share practical, evidence-based tools and strategies to help you learn what anxiety is, where it stems from in our brains, reduce its symptoms, and live with greater peace and calm.

“Anxiety can be crippling to our career prospects, our personal relationships and how we feel about ourselves. Through Befriending Anxiety you’ll learn to soothe an anxious brain, learn practical skills to manage anxiety and shift your awareness to the present moment.”

– Petrea King

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural function of your Default Mode Network (DMN), a network of regions in the brain.

In the distant past, this DMN did a great job to help humans better manage the threat of physical predators. It’s designed to see the danger, the downside, the potential for harm so that it can prepare the body to react. The DMN has always been an important mechanism for us to adequately react and adapt to environmental threats and is known to be related to the development of fear and
anxiety and facilitating a state of readiness.

Today – in our modern lives – we don’t often flee from mammoths, tigers or other larger predators. The work of this part of the brain has instead become to think about the ‘bad’ things that have happened to us, then project those thoughts into the future so we can better prepare ourselves next time we encounter a perceived threat to our physical survival.

The problem is, now our threats are usually more psychological rather than directly physical. Many people are currently worried about their financial survival, which is closely akin to physical survival – and our body activates the fight/flight system whenever we feel under threat.

Bills to pay, work piling up, problems in the home, worry about the future, a sense of social anxiety. These are some of the concerns that can amplify once the DMN is overactivated, a state known as “hyperconnectivity”.

In other words, your mind can begin to replay negative events over and over, catastrophise your day-to-day concerns, or stimulate self-doubt and self-blame. Not surprisingly, DMN hyperconnectivity has been associated with anxiety.

When we go through stressful events, our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) becomes activated to prepare us to fight or flee from the danger. This is a fantastic system to enable us to escape physical predators such as lions, bears, mammoths, snakes – or angry neighbours.

This system works exceedingly well for short, sharp bursts of activity. However, it was never designed to be ‘switched on’ for weeks, let alone months, as it has been for many people who’ve survived drought, fires, floods, COVID and its flow-on effects, and the typical pressures of life in 2022. Our DMN may be running wild with real and perceived threats.

Anxiety: What helps?

If you’re feeling anxious about an uncertain future, then implementing some physical exercise to ‘use up’ this biochemistry is highly encouraged. Even a 20-minute walk will make a difference, especially if it’s a mindful walk, where you focus on the sensations of the body as you walk, rather than using it as a time to ‘think’ or listen to music or a podcast.

Focus on the movement of your body, the sounds and sensations of the world around you and each inward and outward breath to keep your attention on the present moment.

Likewise, a massage can get shift the SNS biochemistry, and help activate our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is our ‘rest and digest’, calming system. Soaking in a warm bath will have a similar effect.

Focus on something you love to do – perhaps a craft or a hobby or talking to someone you love. In this way, you keep your attention finely focussed on whatever the task is you have at hand. Gardening, woodworking, walking, stroking the cat, being with friends, learning something new, or listening to music.

All these activities help you ‘be’ in the present moment and focus your attention, which helps you to manage your anxiety, so it doesn’t dominate your life and these activities switch off your Default Network System.

Sign up for the Befriending Anxiety course for more information and proven strategies to tame your brain and minimise your anxiety.

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