In a covid? post-covid? who-knows-what-will-come-next? kind of world, it is very easy to constantly feel low-level anxiety or worry. Beyond the ‘typical’ issues we may encounter over a lifetime – health complications, relationship concerns, employment problems, moving house, losing a loved one – 2022 also seems rife with big-picture predicaments, from the ongoing pandemic to increasing political divides to climate change. How best to manage these concerns? And how to know if personal feelings of anxiety are ‘normal’ or a sign of something more serious?
What is low-level anxiety?
It is normal to experience bouts of anxiety. You have a job interview coming up, for example – anxiety about this event is natural, and may even be helpful, prompting you to read as much as you can about the company and motivating you to present well on the day. This ‘normal’ anxiety lies at one end of a spectrum and, importantly, does not negatively interfere with your day-to-day functioning. Moving along the anxiety spectrum from normal to clinical, however, there’s a grey area of low-level dread that feels as though it’s possible to cope with, but may still be an impediment to your full enjoyment of life. Although you may not meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder, this low-level worry is still very real, and can make it hard to function optimally.
Five tips for managing low-level anxiety
Being anxious 24-7, even if that anxiety is only a gentle background hum, decreases your quality of life. This chronic low-level anxiety turns on your body’s fight or flight response, meaning you are always metaphorically fighting or fleeing a tiger that is never going to eat you, possibly leading to poor sleep, digestive issues, behavioural changes, impacted emotional health and maladaptive coping strategies. Recognising, catching and taming this tiger, before your anxiety becomes too extreme, is incredibly important for your long-term wellness. So, what can you do to ensure your anxieties don’t get the better of you?
- Start with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding too much sugar, limiting alcohol, exercising regularly and aiming for a good night’s sleep.
- Challenge negative thoughts as they arise and be your own personal fact-checker. If, for instance, your immediate response to a challenge is, ‘I’m going to fail’, ask yourself if this is valid. Many such negative thoughts are fueled by an anxious brain and don’t take into account the preparation that you’ve done or past positive results when doing similar activities.
- Practice mindfulness by focusing on the present moment. Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind, and you can recenter yourself by asking, ‘How am I right now? Am I safe? Is there anything I need to do?’ Learning specific breathing techniques can also help with mindfulness, and the easiest place to start is just by noticing your breathing, focusing on your breath, and following the flow of air into your body and out again.
- Reach out to a friend or family member and ask for their help in reframing your thoughts. A second opinion – and even just expressing your worries or fears out loud – can help unpack and interrogate your anxieties, giving them less power over you. If you’re not quite ready to chat with someone you can also write your anxieties down, getting them out and giving yourself a little distance.
- Take time to focus on the good things in your life or things you are grateful for. Research has shown that gratitude is a strong way to reduce anxiety both in the moment – seeing, for instance, beauty in the movement of a tree by the wind, and in reflection – adding notes, for instance, to a gratitude journal at the end of each day.
Managing low-level anxiety with the support of an experienced Geelong psychologist
If you feel like the low-level hum of your anxiety is reaching more of a rumble – if it is impacting on your daily routines or relationships, for example – it may be time to reach out to a qualified therapist for support. Remember: there is no shame in seeking help. Working with a counsellor can assist you to understand the underlying causes of your anxiety and to learn positive coping techniques for long-term mental and emotional wellness.
With experienced psychologists, the team at Happy Minds Psychology can draw from a range of evidence-based treatments to tailor a therapeutic model to meet your unique requirements. Counselling sessions are available face-to-face in our Bellarine Peninsula office or via Telehealth across Australia. Reach out to the team on 03 5292 8833, email [email protected] or click through to our online contact form.