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Feeling anxious? Here are 5 Tips to Manage it

Anxiety is on the rise, so much so that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported in 2018 that 284 million of the global population now suffer from it, in one of its forms. This makes it one of the most prevalent mental health issues today.

“Broadly speaking, anxiety disorder is when a person has so much anxiety that it prevents them from doing, or makes it extremely difficult for them to do, ordinary things that they would want to do,” says Dr David Carbonell, psychiatrist and author of bestselling self-help book, The Worry Trick. This manifests in various forms that can deeply affect day-to-day quality of life. It could be avoiding driving in certain circumstances, flying, socialising with groups for fear of awkward encounters—it is essentially where a normal activity causes undue stress and suffering.

“Anxiety is very similar to fear, only it’s fear cast to the future. You look to the horizon and anxiety is the ‘what if’s’, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. Asking yourself constantly, Am I going to be ok?” explains Dr Ellen Hendriksen, author of How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety..”

How can you manage anxiety? 

1. Be specific 

Anxiety is vague, so a good strategy is to focus your thoughts in the form of a question. “You can argue with the what if’s if you specify theoretical situations, specify what your feared outcome is when your boss calls you into the office, etc. What is the worry exactly? It then becomes much easier to logic your way out of it,” explains Hendriksen.

The checklist:

  • Specify your feared outcome. Eg: What if my boss fires me today? 
  • Turn the question into a statement. Eg: My boss will not fire me today.
  • Ask has this ever happened before. Eg: Has my boss ever fired me before?
  • What are the odds? Eg: Low.
  • Anxiety also comes from believing you can’t cope. Make a plan for whatever you’re worried about. What are you doing about it? This takes away the uncertainty.  

2. Exposure therapy 

The core of both successful self-management and/or professional treatment of anxiety is exposure. Exposure therapy involves facing the situation that is causing you stress and anxiety. “We want it to be permissive. It’s important to take one step at a time. We don’t want exposure to be in a fighting, resisting, struggling kind of way, as that will bring up fight-or-flight reactions, triggering further stress,” says Carbonell. “Exposure therapy is not about fighting off the anxiety, it’s about staying in a situation long enough to be aware that it’s unpleasant. It’s about being able to hang out there and stay with it and see that it eventually subsides.” 

Carbonell emphasises that coping doesn’t mean giving up on the things that cause the anxiety, whether that’s driving or presentations at work. Instead, it’s about staying exposed to it long enough to see that it won’t be catastrophic. “Ultimately, each time one avoids, one gets fooled into believing it’s harmful. The attitude of exposing yourself to the stressful situation can slowly reduce its status as something fearful.” 

3. Meditation & Breathing

When it comes to mental health issues, meditation has proven efficacy. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore examined 47 trials that addressed the use of meditation to tackle the symptoms of anxiety. They showed considerable benefit to using meditation to quieten the anxious what if’s in the mind. 

“A breathing technique is a good thing too,” adds Carbonell, “because people with panic disorders, in particular, tend to have bad breathing techniques. The chest gets tight and releases a whole lot of other symptoms, so finding a rhythmic breathing exercise can be a great comfort.” 

4. Sleep 

Getting adequate sleep will keep the adrenals in check, meaning less cortisol in the system, meaning less incidents of fight-or-flight response. Ultimately it will keep you calmer if you are prone to anxiety, allowing for a greater resilience to things that may trigger an anxious episode.

5. Exercise

“Exercise across the board, but particularly for anxiety disorders, is a good thing,” advises Carbonell. “Lots of people with anxiety disorders can be afraid of exercise because their heart rate picks up and their breathing gets out of control, but learning to exercise in a controlled way can have a great effect. It’s all a matter of proportion. The best use of exercise to get into a regular routine—three to five days a week, 30 to 40 minutes is helpful. What’s unhelpful is to get into the mindset of dependency, thinking Every time I have to do something challenging, I can go and work out hard for that hour. It’s not a shield, better to use it like a daily vitamin for its overall effects.” 

Having Issues with Anxitey? Contact Maple Leaf Clinic today for support.