Self Help - Understanding and Managing Anxiety

If the statement, 'It is never too late to be what you could have been' strikes a cord with you and you need someone to help you 'be' then Andrew Pearce is the person to call.

Colette Stroud

Panic Attacks

If you have recently experienced a panic attack for the first time it can be extremely upsetting and frightening. Usually people think that they are going to collapse or might think that they are going to die - this is, in fact, highly unlikely. However one and a half million people in this country have experienced panic attacks.

During a panic attack adrenalin is released into your blood stream and your heart can beat really fast. Rapid, shallow breathing and muscle tension can lead to chest pains. As a result people often think they might be having a heart attack. Similarly people can get worried about their breathing. If anyone is hyperventilating excessively their body will reach a point where it actually becomes difficult to breathe for a short while. This is called apnoea and is simply the body’s way of telling you that you have taken in too much oxygen. Obviously if you're already panicking then this can add to the fear that you feel and you may well be afraid that you will pass out.

You might already recognise from these descriptions how easy it is for vicious circles to start operating. Yet at a very simple level all that is happening is that you are experiencing a speeding up of normal bodily processes. If you were using up this energy by, for instance, exercising, then you would not be alarmed that your heart was racing.

This bodily arousal is in fact a relatively simple process. It is our minds that can determine how we understand what is happening to us.

In fact fear and excitement can be pretty indistinguishable at a physical level. Think about how you might feel if you were watching your numbers come up on the lottery, you’d feel butterflies in your tummy, your heart rate would increase. But in this sort of situation you would not feel afraid but rather, you would be interpreting the feelings in a positive light and feel excited. Similarly, if you listen to people talking about parachuting out of aeroplanes they talk about the “Buzz” and the “Rush” that they get from this. Think about people you may have seen doing a Bungee jump. When they first jump off the platform they often scream with terror. Yet when they are pulled back up and away from the ground you can often hear them scream with excitement. The person’s body has not had time to physically calm down and then become excited in a thrilling way. All that has happened is taking place in the person’s mind. Their body is just as aroused, with just as much adrenalin flowing around, the difference is that the person is now interpreting this as excitement.


Relaxation lowers your level of arousal and reduces feelings of anxiety. There are many ways to relax. Pleasant activities such as going for a walk, gardening, taking a bath, enjoying the company of friends are all relaxing activities. You can also learn to reduce your feelings of anxiety through techniques such as deep breathing. When you are tense your breathing may become shallow. A simple and effective method of reducing tension is to breathe deeply and evenly. To practice deep breathing place your hands in the area just above your navel. Inhale so that your stomach rises and your hands are pushed out. Exhale and let your stomach deflate beneath your hands. Then repeat this.

Yoga, meditation, hypnosis and relaxation techniques are all using the same fundamental principles to help a person control how their body is reacting. Each of these techniques requires the person to keep their body still and focus on what they are feeling or thinking. In order to appreciate what is happening when these techniques are used it is useful to understand a number of things. There are a range of feelings that we take so much for granted that we are not always aware of them. As you sit reading this think about your body, you can feel the weight of it pressing down on the surface of the chair or couch that you are sitting in. The feeling is a fuzzy tingly sense of pressure, coupled with a sense of warmth from your body. If you move or shuffle your body around you will feel that there is a definite point at which your body ends and the surface you're resting on begins. This clear sense of definition is helped by the movements you make and will also be helped by being able to see your body.

When you shut your eyes and keep your body still things take on a different perspective. As your body is not moving it will feel less well defined. With your eyes shut the sense of proportion that you have about your body will change. What you feel will depend upon the sensitivity of the parts of your body that are touching something else. You may be aware of the pulse of your blood as it moves around your body or of your heart beating. In addition you may have a sensation in your tummy and will also be able to notice the movement of your body as you breathe in and out.

Once you appreciate this information you will understand the processes that underlie the various approaches to relaxation. Simply by remaining still, with your eyes shut, and focusing on the sensations within your body you will come to be aware of a warm, fuzzy tingly feeling. Your body will not feel as clearly defined as usual, and when you start to concentrate upon the movement of your body as you breathe in and out, you may well start to feel a fuzzy floating feeling.

As well as focusing the mind inwards onto bodily feelings it is also possible to focus your thoughts so that you are not distracted. By using all the senses you will find that you are able to conjure up a pleasant relaxing scene within your mind. For instance, think of resting on a beach on a warm sunny day, imagine the sounds of the waves, the smell of fresh sea air, the smell of sun tan cream, feel the sensation of sand running between your toes as you move them around, imagine if you opened your eyes you would see a cloudless sky above you and a blue sea stretching for miles in front of you. The actual scene that you conjure up could be anything that appeals to you. Try and stick with the same scene because with practice just thinking about the scene may be enough to help you become heavily relaxed.

Indeed, relaxing is simply a skill that anyone can get good at with practice. Relaxation tapes are available and can be of great assistance. Our own tape is available on request.

Managing Anxiety

Once you have learned a method of relaxation it can be used to help you tackle anxiety-provoking situations. There are however some rules of thumb.

  • Set goals that you know you will be able to manage yet have a degree of difficulty about them.
  • Pace yourself, only upping the stakes when you are comfortable with the goals you have been tackling.
  • Take it easy on your self. You will achieve the best results when there is less pressure on you generally.
  • Seek advice through your GP if you are experiencing continuing problems.

Anxiety Further Reading


Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
Susan Jeffers

Buy Now From Amazon

Feel the Fear and Beyond
Susan Jeffers

Buy Now From Amazon