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People who struggle with anxiety often define it as a suffocating, overwhelming sensation, sometimes manifested in the form of palpitations, sweating, trembling, inability to form coherent thoughts, among other symptoms. Anxiety is also unique in its relationship with every person. However, here is some advice from psychologist Shelja Sen on how to come to terms with this mental state.
Shelja is a child and adolescent psychologist, and family therapist. Her latest book Reclaim Your Life attempts to further the conversation around mental health and fight stigma around it.
In a conversation with FIT, Shelja talks about signs to watch out for, coping and containing an anxiety attack in yourself or others when you feel one approaching, among other tips to address anxiety.
How Do I Identify Signs of Anxiety?
Shelja says there are several ways of identifying it. Signs of anxiety could be picked up at an physiological, emotional, cognitive, behavioural level.
" There are various signs of picking up anxiety and it’s important that we understand that anxieties come in different hues and shapes." - Shelja Sen
How Do I Separate Anxiety From Everyday Stress?
Stress is something everyone lives with, says Shelja. It’s inevitable and part of everyone’s life. However when this stress reaches debilitating levels, it's called anxiety.
"Anxiety is when this particular stress could escalates to the level that it becomes so strong that the person is not able to function. It could be because of the events of a person’s life, it could be because of the trauma of the person went through, it could be the wiring, it could be genetic, and it’s persistent. " - Shelja Sen
She adds that anxiety is also something which lasts over a period of time and not something that subsides or disappears within a short period of time like a day or two.
How Do I Cope With an Anxiety Attack in Myself or Others?
Shelja says there is an easy mantra when it comes to dealing with anxiety attacks. She calls it ABC - stay alert, breathe out and change the channel. Always be alert and pay attention to your body - do you feel your heart racing, shortness of breath, any other symptom you associate with anxiety?
The key is to become an expert in your anxiety. Once you have identified those, pay attention to your breathing. Take a deep breath through your nose and breathe out through the mouth. Try this several times.
Finally, change the channel - distract yourself. Get up and walk around, go for a jog, break into dancing, cook something or talk to someone - do whatever you have to, but break the loop of negative thoughts in your head.
How Do I Cope With Anxiety?
“I hate the word ‘positive thinking’”, asserts Shelja. Anxiety will not go by simply being positive, you can’t resist it, she emphasises.
"The way of dealing with it is understanding anxiety is there, accepting it, being compassionate, but seeing it separate from yourself. If you’re able to separate yourself from anxiety, then you’re able to deal with it." - Shelja SenHow Do I Cope With Anxiety Triggers I Can’t Avoid?
There are indeed triggers you can’t avoid. It could be an office space, a classroom or a social situation. It could be the anxiety of taking a flight or going to a crowded place. These are all very real and common anxiety triggers.
Shelja suggests incorporating some simple practices in your daily regime to help you deal with those triggers one day at a time.
"Life is a daily practice and the way you live you everyday, you will learn how to cope with anxiety better. So, simple rituals like starting your day with meditation, visualisation, staying mindful and gratitude and forgiveness help a lot." - Shelja SenMy Anxiety Often Takes the Form of Anger. How Do I Address it?
We convert our anxiety into anger because it shifts the focus from me to you, says Shelja. In such a situation, once again, she repeats, it’s important to be mindful and pay attention to your emotions. Once we accept them, it becomes easier to deal with them.
"There are times when fear is there, anger, sadness, jealousy, resentment, guilt, shame is there - all these are human emotions and I feel them. It’s okay, these emotions are there, but I can deal with them." - Shelja Sen
(If you or someone you know needs help, please refer to this state-wise repository of trusted mental health professionals across India, curated by The Health Collective.)
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