2019 Oct 2
From over-planning situations to getting the jitters before going onstage to struggling with making eye contact with a stranger – anxiety can manifest in many ways. Perhaps Linkin Park said it best through one of their best hits “I don’t like my mind right now. Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary” or Julia Brennan did when she sang that “inner demons don’t play by the rules.” Whichever way you choose to look at it, anxiety can limit us from living our best lives.
As for the Sri Lankan context, anxiety is reportedly more prevalent that clinical depression and is becoming increasingly evident among young children. Another challenge for those with severe anxiety in Sri Lanka is one that is associated with social stigma. Since issues of mental health are not openly spoken about, many individuals end up bottling up their feelings and do not recognize the importance of seeking help.
What exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worrying thoughts and physical changes that leads to increased blood pressure, by the American Psychological Association. Although there is no single determiner to what causes anxiety, genes, circumstances, life experiences and even certain drugs (sometimes, even caffeine!) might be to blame. According to the National Council for Mental Health in Sri Lanka, what is known as “anxiety disorder” is much broader and can take one of six forms.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Excessive uncontrollable worry about everyday issues, such as school, work, money, friends and health.
- Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – (or Social Phobia) – Avoidance of everyday social situations due to extreme anxiety.
- Panic Disorders – Severe attacks of fear for no apparent reason, which may make a person feel like he/she is having a heart attack.
- Specific Phobias – Intense fear of an object, place or situation (such as using elevators, driving on highways, or heights) that leads to an avoidance of the object or situation.
- Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder (OCD) – Persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears and manifest as repetitive behaviour.
- Post-Traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD) – Several months or years after a traumatic life experience, avoidance, detachment, difficulty in sleeping and concentrating, and the need to relieve the traumatic event.
The Grounding Technique
Grounding techniques help you go through your five senses to help remind you of the present, whenever you get the jitters. It is calming, fool-proof and highly recommended by mental health practitioners.
Try the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
First, begin by focusing on your breathing. Once you feel calmer, go through the following steps.
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell a pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?
(Source: University of Rochester Medical Center)
Other grounding techniques include rating your anxiety from 1-10, plant your feet flat on the floor or engage in some mindfulness meditation.
Make an Anxiety Soothing Playlist
Need some suggestions? We’ve compiled a list:
- Hammock – Tape Recorder
- Cary Brothers- Ride
- Bon Iver- Holoscene
- Stay Alive – John Gonsalez
- Paradise Fears- Sanctuary
- Broods – Sleep Baby Sleep
- Anna Nalick – Breathe
- Bob Marley – Three Little Birds
- Andy Grammar- Keep Your Head Up
- Israel Kamakawiwoʻole – Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Avoid Negative Coping Strategies
We’ve all got our guilty pleasures but turning to alcohol, binge-eating, procrastinating or any other negative coping strategies are sure-fire ways to actually worsen an oncoming panic attack or feelings of anxiety. Making an effort to lead an overall healthy lifestyle and staying clear of potential temptations are key.
Have a Healthy Diet
A number of medically recommended foods are a good way to keep anxiety at bay in the long run. They include fatty fish (high in Omega-3), eggs (great source of Vitamin D), pumpkin seeds, nuts (most nuts contain selenium, an antioxidant that helps reduce anxiety), dark chocolate (rich source of polyphenols) and turmeric (curcumin found in turmeric may help lower anxiety by reducing inflammation).
A problem that is common in Sri Lanka is that people opt out of reaching out to people they trust due to heavy social stigma. There is no shame in sharing how you feel. Choose someone you trust and let them know that you need help coping. As an alternative, you can also reach out to someone at the end of a helpline. Here are a few (mostly toll-free) numbers:
- Ohana Project – firstname.lastname@example.org
- CCCline – 1333 (24 hours)
- Shanthi maargam – 0717639898
- Sumithrayo – 011 2696666 (9am to 8pm)
*This article was written with help from The Ohana Project; a community of mental health professionals who aims to ‘leave no one behind.’