Finding calm in chaos: Tips to tame your anxious mind

Psychologists suggest a slew of strategies to cope with anxiety on a day-to-day basis.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

Minakshi Lal (21) was diagnosed with depression early this year. A chronic worrier, Lal admits having experienced the symptoms while pursuing her graduation from Delhi University last year. “I was skipping classes… almost a semester passed by and I could not get myself to attend classes,” she shares. Of the many symptoms Lal encountered back then, anxiety and the uncertainty of what would happen next were constants. “I would think through the same situation a number of times. It would be like being stuck in a maze.”

Once a mental health jargon, ‘anxiety’—the disorder—is now often incorporated into our day-to-day conversations, and thus has become an everyday reality. A 2020 World Health Organisation report revealed that about 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorders.

The same increased further during the pandemic. In fact, a 2021 UNICEF flagship study revealed that children and young people in the country could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for years to come.

Tame your mind

Everyone experiences occasional bouts of anxiety. However, this becomes an issue when it becomes chronic, usually hindering one’s productivity. Anxiety has long been associated with fidgeting due to restlessness. However, this can manifest in different ways and is unique to every person—there are many who appear calm while processing a change of anxious thoughts without the emotional turmoil being visible to others.

Acknowledging this fact, Saumya Garg, a counselling psychologist, mentions a few common symptoms of anxiety, and shares, “A sense of restlessness, constant fear, the feeling of being out of control, living in that ‘what if’ zone, are all symptoms.”

The condition may also bring about somatic symptoms; an individual experiencing anxiety may experience stomach ache, headache, or fever. “Yet, it is difficult to state by the face of it because how one processes anxiety differs.”

Given how the issue differs from person to person, coping mechanisms to are highly personal in nature. When looking to address the issue immediately, a few short-term strategies such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, grounding techniques, etc., can help. Sandeep Dhillon, counselling psychologist and founder of GoodPsyche, a Connaught Place-based mental health platform, suggests another key tip—differentiate between ‘possibility’ and ‘probability’ to stop overthinking.

“Say you are driving a car; there is a ‘possibility’ of having an accident, but what is the ‘probability’? If you wear a seatbelt and follow all traffic rules, the probability will reduce. Therefore, whenever you start overthinking about something, divide it into ‘possibility’ and ‘probability’; that should help.”

The creative expression also has healing potential when it comes to anxiety, shares Divija Bhasin, a Central Delhi-based counselling psychologist. “Getting immersed in an enjoyable activity can act as a grounding technique to help stay in the present and feel more in control. Different things work for different people—journalling, drawing, painting, dance, etc., are all creative ways that help one ground themselves to the present and can be used as tools for distraction. But one must note that these may not work for everyone,” she says.

One step at a time

If you suffer from anxiety regularly, finding treatment strategies is important to keep it in check. For people experiencing low or mild levels of anxiety, Garg suggests a long-term strategy, i.e. one must shift their goal from “being anxiety-free” or suppressing the issue to learning how to coexist with the condition.

“The more you try to avoid something, the more energy it takes from you. Avoidance does not work in the long run. Instead, acknowledge that you are feeling anxious about something, and continue the activity anyway. This way, you learn to coexist with the condition.”

Long-term strategies for people with extreme levels of anxiety would involve seeking medical help that, as Bhasin shares, could further allow them to “understand the reasons and patterns”. Dhillon, too, suggests psychotherapy for individuals who experience the same on a regular basis. “It can help you deal with your thoughts, unconscious emotions, and your rituals,” he concludes.

Take control of the situation

Counselling psychologist Sandeep Dhillon suggests a few short-term strategies to cope with anxiety. “Hold some ice; drink cold water, put some cold water on your head, if that is possible; close and open your fist tightly; try to observe the things around you so as to take the attention away from yourself.”

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The New Indian Express