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Understand and manage anxiety

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Acknowledging your fears and learning to plan can ease anxious feelings

Negative thinking is an inherent part of anxiety. Anxious thoughts take on a life of their own, interfering with all your other thoughts.

When you get anxious thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them. Say to yourself “I’m feeling anxiety”. Calmly tell yourself an affirmative phrase such as “This, too, shall pass.”

When you’re anxious about something, it can help to confront what the worst end result could be. Then move on to what your options are to minimise or manage the worst-case scenario.

For example, you’re concerned about driving somewhere new. What are you worried about? What’s the worst that can happen? That you’ll get horribly lost? Drive round and round in circles, run out of petrol and be stranded?

Learn to plan instead of worry. Worry involves your mind going over and over the same problems. A good plan can make a big difference in calming a ruminative mind; it doesn’t need constant review.

How to manage your anxiety

The following four steps will help to ease feelings of anxiety:

● Identify the specific problem
● Identify options and possible solutions - don’t feel you have to come up with the perfect solution, just identify what you can change rather than aspects beyond your control
● Choose one of the options or solutions
● Make an action plan on how to carry out the option

So once you have identified what you’re worried about, write down the solutions you can think of. Don’t feel you have to find a perfect solution - just identify what you can change, rather than aspects beyond your control. After you’ve decided which option to take, make a plan of action.

So, if you concerned about driving somewhere new, options might include using a sat nav, using a map, taking a friend, making sure your phone is charged and leaving in plenty of time.

Once you have a plan, you’ll feel less worried. This is because you’ll be doing something positive - something that helps you manage your emotions. You’ll be able to replace your negative thinking with more hopeful, positive thoughts.

You can use the fact that you have the plan to prevent the cycle of ruminative worrying. If you find yourself worrying, you can say, “Stop! I have a plan!” Then look at that written plan and keep your thoughts on that. Visualise a positive outcome where you see yourself coping.

If you have experienced a difficult situation in the past and are anxious about similar situations, another positive approach is to think about what you learnt from it that you could use to make the next experience better?

For example, if you did get horribly lost last time you drove somewhere new, what did you learn from that? Perhaps you learnt that you don’t find a sat nav helpful - it stresses you out - so look for something new for the next time. Know you can make it different from last time. Again, visualise yourself coping. That’s emotionally intelligent.

● This is an edited extract from Emotional Intelligence: Managing Emotions to Make a Positive Impact on Your Life and Career by Gill Hasson (published by Capstone, £10.99).

Gill Hasson is a freelance journalist and associate tutor for the University of Sussex

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