General Anxiety Disorder is the most common mental health issue in the UK, torturing at least 5 percent of the population. Below are 10 tips to help you live a liberated and anxiety-free life.
Anxiety is the way our body responds to the warning signals in our brain. Red flag messages are sent by our amygdala, and the alarm bell is raised to notify the rest of our body that we are in danger. The amygdala stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which then triggers the release of adrenaline. As our heart rate increases, we begin to breathe more heavily, our muscles tense up, and our body starts to sweat to cool us down. We become physically agitated as our body optimises itself to fight or to take flight.
Deep breathing helps to counteract this process by relaxing our muscles and releasing the tension. It allows us space to think properly, as opposed to the distortion of thoughts that occur when we become anxious.
Take a deep breath in through your nose for the count of 4, and then through pursed lips exhale for the count of 8. The exhaling part of the exercise is key in relaxing your muscles and releasing tension. Ensure that the breathing process throughout is controlled, such that by the end of the count of 8 you have emptied your lungs. Repeat this process 5 times and notice the change in your physiology.
Surrender your worries to Allah
Anxiety is rooted in our feelings of worry. We worry about our future and of those that we love. We sweat and stress over the areas of success and failure that are beyond our control. In doing so, we forgo the freedom and tranquillity that comes with surrendering our future to Allah. Know that whatever Allah has willed for you will never miss you. Trust that Allah has a plan for you that is better than your current plan. Reflect on your past and the ways in which this has already happened. The following hadith is one my favourites. It allows me to feel at ease by knowing that my life is in the Hand of the Most Generous and Merciful. I hope it can have a similar impact on you.
ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās رضي الله عنه reports:
“One day I was riding (a horse/camel) behind the Prophet ﷺ when he said, ‘Young man, I will teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of Allah. If you need help, seek it from Allah. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if Allah had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if Allah had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry.’” (Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī)
Moreover, we find Allah state in His Book:
“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (al-Qur’an, 2:216)
There are many things in our life that are in our control, and other things that are not. Do the best that you can and leave the rest to Allah. This type of deferential approach can indeed feel liberating. So the next time you feel anxious, remember that whatever anxiety is telling you, Allah is the One Who is in charge. Consequently, seek strength in Him.
Grounding techniques can be used to create space and pull you away from anxious thoughts by bringing you into the present. They are particularly useful if you feel the onslaught of an anxiety attack. Take a deep, controlled breath and then find:
- 5 things you can see.
- 4 things you can touch.
- 3 things you can hear.
- 2 things you can smell.
- 1 thing you can taste.
Challenge your thoughts
Anxious thoughts poke at our soft spots. They trigger our insecurities and therefore feel very powerful. But just because a thought pops into your mind does not actually make it true. The same thoughts are probably running through your mind in most situations. Challenge how true they are. Ask yourself:
- Is this a realistic thought?
- What is the evidence for this to be true?
- Why is it probably false?
- What would I say to someone else who was having this thought?
Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else allows you to move away from the anxiety and think more objectively. We tend to be more compassionate to others than ourselves. By implementing this method, you can begin to apply some of that compassion to yourself.
See a therapist
There are many possibilities for why we have anxious thoughts. It could be due to unethical marketing advertisements or the hidden messages in popular movies and shows that make us feel lacking in some way. A traumatic childhood experience is another possibility, as are negative emotional seeds that were planted during our early years. Talking to a trained therapist can help uncover these deep-rooted issues, provide you with greater self-insight, and allow you to be more self-accepting and compassionate.
Although anxiety may be one of the contributors to procrastination, procrastination can also fuel anxiety. As we delay the tasks that we need to do or avoid working towards the goals that we want to achieve, the workload piles up and the pressure increases, thereby causing us to become more anxious. The only way to avoid such a predicament is to bite the bullet. Try using planners to schedule your day and week, or rely on lists to prioritise your tasks. If possible, finish as many tasks as you can at the earliest time.
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When tasks such as writing an essay or working on your personal business feel overwhelming, break them down into smaller chunks. Try the 20 minute rule. Tell yourself that whatever task you have, you will only spend 20 minutes working on it, without any distractions. Use a timer and make sure to refer to it. If your productive juices are flowing at the end of the 20 minute cycle, then carry on until your concentration starts to dip. At that point stop your work, take a break, or do something else. Next time, tell yourself again that you will only work for 20 minutes. The goal is just to overcome the initial hurdle of starting. If the time period of 20 minutes feels too much, then tell yourself that you will only work for 10 minutes or 5 minutes. [/box]
Exercising gives you better control of your body, and helps lower the body’s physiological contribution to anxiety. It also helps to clear the mind and releases endorphins that enhance your overall sense of well-being. Research has shown that exercise in conjunction with either therapy or medication is a better remedy than any one method.
Avoiding stimulants such as sugar, coffee, cigarettes, and any form of intoxicants can make it easier for you to relax. Some people have found that eating a healthier diet has helped them in managing their anxiety better.
Visit the Masjid
Anxiety tries to isolate you like a bully. The more it can keep you away from people, the stronger of a hold it can have. Visiting the masjid for ṣalāh ensures that you challenge anxiety and mix with people. Doing this a few times a day will weaken the anxiety and allow you to feel more relieved. It will also take you out of the house, which you may have been trapped for days on end. The masjid and congregational prayer provide a safe space, where you can challenge your anxiety in small steps. People are generally left to their own worship, whilst those who want to socialise only need to say ‘al-salām ʿalaykum’ to their fellow brother or sister. The sending of ‘salām’ to each other is a small but powerful tool that opens the door to connecting with people.
Do the opposite of anxiety
Anxiety is a bully that must have its way. It always needs to get what it wants, and what it wants is to have you all to itself. That way, it can isolate you, control you, and make you feel bad. The more you listen to your anxious thoughts and avoid the things that it has made scary for you, the bigger it grows and the greater strength it has. However, in reality it is weak. The moment you fight it and stop avoiding the things you need to do, it rapidly begins to shrink.
So, the next time that anxious voice tells you not to go to a gathering because people will laugh at the way you look, fight the uncomfortable feelings and do it anyway. When it tells you to hide away in the corner and not talk to anyone as you might say something ‘silly’, tell it to be quiet and initiate conversations with people. After doing so, always reinforce the positives in order to challenge it. It was not as bad as you thought it would be, right?
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Ahmed Tomal is a BACP qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist. He is the founder of Tawfiq Therapy (www.tawfiqtherapy.com) which is a private practice specialising in bettering mental health and relationships.