Anxiety can be a frightening, uncomfortable experience. However, it is important to understand that feeling anxious from time to time is perfectly normal and that it is almost always a transient, temporary feeling that can be tackled in many ways.

It is also important to understand what causes anxiety. Having a greater understanding of what anxiety is will contribute to your knowing how to approach it and banish it.

In some ways anxiety is also necessary, it is what motivates you to revise for your exams or to prepare for a job interview or social engagement. Knowing how to control anxiety and knowing when it is unfounded is essential.

The answer lies in: 

  • Understanding our own anxiety patterns
  • Learning to control the physical and emotional signs of anxiety
  • Dealing with unhelpful thoughts and behaviour
  • Facing our fears so we learn to manage them

Because all four parts of anxiety– physical, emotional, thinking and behaviour - work together, improving one area will help with the others too. 

How do I alleviate my anxiety?

It is important to understand that it will get better, if you commit to it, should serve as motivation to persevere.

  • Let friends and family members know what you’re feeling - If they understand how you feel and respond in certain situations, then they will know how to react if you start behaving in a certain way. They might encourage you to persevere. After a time, anxiety will begin to decrease.
  • Gradual exposure to whatever triggers anxiety - A person with a fear of spiders would start by talking about spiders, their personal anxiety reactions to them and their current anxiety response just talking about spiders. Initially the conversation would be superficial and short, so that only a bearable amount of anxiety is created and then resolved. Relaxation and breathing exercises are often practised with each step.

Physically escaping from anxiety

When you become anxious, your body responds in particular ways. It is worth noticing how your body reacts to stress, as this can help you to recognise when things are becoming difficult for you. Read on for some advice to help reduce anxiety physically.

  • Exercise as part of your daily routine is going to help you manage your anxieties. Exercise such as walking, swimming, playing a sport, going to the gym, or yoga can help relax the body and mind. Exercise needs concentration, and this can take your mind off your fear and anxiety. Find the right exercise for you and you'll feel both energised and relaxed. Yoga is excellent for re-installing calm by focusing on breathing and centring the mind. University of Galway's YogaSociety offers classes. Sign up for Yoga Soc here.

 Breathing exercises can be very helpful in making us feel more relaxed. Did you know that when our breathing rate increases during the stress response, that this triggers physiological changes in our bodies? Breathing exercises are designed to help you slow down your breathing and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Why not try some of these exercises below:

1) This one is an easy unobtrusive way to calm your body. It can also help prevent panic.

Sit in a comfy chair and relax as much as you can. Take a slow normal breath (not a deep breath) and think "1" to yourself. As you breathe out, think, "relax". Breathe in again and think "2". Breathe out and think, "relax". Keep doing this up to 10. When you reach 10, reverse and start back down to 1. Try to put all else out of your mind. Try to see the numbers and the word 'relax' in your mind's eye.

2) Learn to breathe from the diaphragm

Place one hand on your chest and the other over your belly button. As you breathe in, the hand on your stomach should be pushed out while the hand on your chest should not move. As you breathe out, your stomach should pull in. Your chest should not move.

To help, breathe in through your nose, purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth. If you are a chest breather, you may find this hard at first. If you can't get the hang of this, lie on your back on the floor and practise. You will find this easier.

Put these two together and do them twice a day. Once you get good at them, do them when you are at work, sitting on the bus, watching TV etc. The aim is to be able to do this no matter where you are. No-one will notice you doing them.

3) 1 relax to 10 relax

Take a breath in and think "1"

Breathe out and think "relax"

Take a breath in and think "2"

Breathe out and think "relax"

Repeat up to 10 and then back down to 1

Think only about your breathing and on the number and "relax" in the mind’s eye

Use slow normal breathing (10-12 breaths per minute). Breathe in through your nose. Purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth

Use the diaphragm - as you breathe in, your stomach should push out while your chest should not move

As you breathe out, your stomach should pull in. Your chest should not move when you breathe out.

Practise twice a day in different places.

Mindfulness is also a good way to practice relaxation and alleviate anxiety. Mindfulness is a skill in learning to focus, or be mindful of what is happening from moment to moment with a non-judging attitude. Once we learn how to do this, we can begin to deal with many of the causes of everyday stress such as anxiety provoking thoughts about the past or future and any other stress points such as time pressure, frustration, disappointment and distractions. Why not join the University of Galway Mindful Way shared practices, available both online and in person.