We all get worried from time to time but when that worry starts to become a regular feature of your day and stops you from functioning, it becomes a problem that needs fixing. The stresses of maintaining a full, active life with AS can be a trigger for this kind of anxiety in many patients. If that’s something you recognize, here are a few tips to help you break the panic cycle and move forward with your day.
Just as your emotional state affects your breathing – think the shallow panting of a panic attack – so your breathing affects your emotional state. Slow, controlled breathing has been shown to have significant benefits for resting heart rate and ‘sympathetic tone’ – a measure of the mechanism behind the ‘fight or flight’ stress reflex1,2. Reducing sympathetic tone relaxes the body, helping it feel less like a coiled spring.
If you’re feeling stressed, try this simple exercise to regulate your breathing:
2. Take a break
If you feel like you’re bending under the weight of your responsibilities, just put them down for a bit. Take 15 minutes to yourself – make a cup of tea, take a walk or listen to the radio. If you simply HAVE to be doing something ‘useful’, try simple, manual tasks like washing up or cleaning – clean and tidy surroundings can be another wonderful way to promote calmness.
3. Go easy on yourself
Anxiety arises when there’s a gap between what we think we SHOULD be achieving and what we CAN achieve. This can be one of the most toxic and hard-to-shift aspects of anxiety because, as Radiohead said, you do it to yourself (you do and that’s what really hurts).
Overcoming anxiety that is rooted in your view of the world is about changing your view of the world. First, look at the facts; schedule everything you’re aiming to achieve and then ask yourself whether you’d be able manage all of those tasks in the time available even if you weren’t also dealing with AS. Then picture the worst thing that could happen if you don’t achieve absolutely all of them. In most cases you’ll realize that there’s an easy fix if you’re happy to give yourself a pass.
4. Fire up the tunes
Listening to your favorite music has been shown to activate the same ‘reward’ centres of the brain as are triggered by fine food – even sex!3 This makes it a fantastic way to relax you and lift your mood when you’re down.
There’re also a whole range of relaxation playlists on Spotify, from The Stress Buster (http://spoti.fi/1TVftdc) to eleven hours of chill out music for your cat (http://spoti.fi/2lOLrOR). Play around and see what suits you.
5. Open up to someone
A large part of the stress of anxiety is the effort of keeping it inside. Don’t. Find someone you’re comfortable to lean on and just let it out. This helps in two ways; firstly, you’re letting someone know you need help and, more than likely, they’ll happy to give it to you, relieving some of the strain you’ve been under.
Secondly, they can reframe your worries for you, showing you where your brain might be playing tricks.
6. Put your thoughts down in black and white
If there’s no-one around to talk to, a notepad can do just as well as a confidante. While they’re still in your head, negative thoughts have an infinite space to grow and repeat themselves. Trapping them as marks on a page helps put them in perspective. You can also use these notepads as a journal of sorts – looking back at previous entries to remind yourself that you’ve felt like this before and got through it.
7. Get your blood pumping
Exercise is the silver bullet for negative mood. There are very few bouts of anxiety that can withstand the rush of endorphins triggered by a good run or a long bike ride. Obviously such high-impact activities are made harder when dealing with AS but you can get similar benefits from other gentler forms of exercise. Try swimming, fast walking or aerobic exercise like pilates or yoga – anything that gets your heart beating quicker.
If you’ve hit your max capacity of stress and anxiety, there’s no better way to hit the reset button than a short nap. Set aside 15 minutes, use the breathing exercise suggested earlier and let your unconscious mind get to work sorting out your priorities without any distractions.
This article was written by the resident experts at ThisASLife.com. A social site helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.
1- Turankar, AV et al. Indian J Med Res. 2013 May; 137(5): 916–921.
2-Sympathetic tone. (n.d) Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. (2008). Retrieved March 30 2017 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sympathetic+tone
3-Blood, AJ and Zatorre, RJ. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2001; 98: 11818-23.