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Dr Liz Miller's Ten Quick Tips for Anxiety

Posted Jan 23 2009 6:25pm

Dr Liz Miller’s Ten Quick Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

1) Recognise the symptoms of anxiety
2) Find the cause and start on the problems
3) Exercise
4) Breathing and relaxation therapies
5) Eat a healthy diet
6) Avoid food and chemicals that are bad for you
7) Talk to people
8) Talk to yourself as you would your best friend, turn your inner critic to an inner coach
9) Deal with worrying thoughts
10) Kill the monster while it is small

Ten Quick Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

1) Recognise the symptoms of anxiety
Everyone gets anxious. Only a psychopath can go through life without neither qualm of self doubt nor conscience, never feeling even the flutter of a heartbeat in the face of joy or despair.
The symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety has a biological and a psychological component.

The chemical cause of anxiety is adrenaline, which is a hormone that causes the “Fight and Flight” reaction and makes people more alert. In small doses, it can be helpful but constantly worrying is not healthy.

If you are or have been anxious, you may recognise some or all the following:


Simple decisions become difficult, you begin to question everything you do – this reduces your confidence with simple tasks you might otherwise do without a second thought, or tasks you see other people completing seemingly effortlessly.
Mulling over a single thought or set of thoughts that can override everything you do or want to do

Body Symptoms:

General symptoms: Sweaty palms, sweating forehead, a rapid pulse rate, palpitations,
rapid breathing, dizziness, shortness of breath; feeling of being unable to direct your energy to do anything useful, trembling,
Increased pain or other symptoms, strange feelings in your body that make you worry whether you have a serious disease
Gut symptoms: Dry mouth, reduced apetite, increased appetite, diarrhoea,
constipation and bloating, spasmodic pains, feeling better after a drink,
Sleep: Difficulty getting to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, waking early

2)Find the cause and start on the problems

Easier said than done!
Some people are naturally more anxious than others, even so, anxiety does not come out of the blue. Sometimes it is obvious what the problem is, and sometimes it is not. Being in debt is stressful, depending on how much you owe. If you owe enough, the banks will be more stressed than you. As my brother says, "When you die, you cannot take your money with you, but you can take a heck of a lot of other peoples." Financial struggles cause and are caused by poor mental health. One aspect of poor mental health is anxiety.
Anxiety stops people solving problems. This leads to a vicious cycle.
A problem causes anxiety. Anxiety stops you solving the problem. This makes the problem worse. The worsening problem causes more anxiety.
Breaking the vicious cycle of anxiety
What is making you anxious?


Living in an unsafe place, or a place that feels unsafe,
for example a high-rise council tower block, in an unsafe neighbourhood, or even your own home after you have been burgled

Physical health:
A fear of cancer, or other physical condition. It is easy to get caught in a spiral where something worries you, you develop some odd symptoms, medical tests can’t tell you what is wrong, then the symptoms of anxiety becomes the cause of further worry and anxiety


There is nothing more disturbing to our health and sanity than living in a place or working somewhere where you do not feel welcome, liked and trusted, and where you cannot trust the people around you to support you. This in itself can destroy a person. An unhappy marriage, bullying in the workplace, or being anywhere you do not feel respected can bring on anxiety.

Past experiences:

If you have had difficult experiences in the past, these can continue to haunt you when you are reminded of them by events in your current life. People with post-traumatic stress disorder feel high levels of anxiety in many areas of their life, but even without a dramatic cause, past events still influence how we feel about what is going on around us now

Not being true to you:

Each one of us has a distinctive personality and an individual set of beliefs and values that describe what we believe is important. A vegetarian may feel ill at ease in a meat packing factory. Equally if you constantly have to pretend to be someone you are not, or do what goes against what you believe to be right you too can feel anxious.

The Future:
It is natural to feel apprehensive about the future. However anxiety also stops a person doing their best and making most use of their talents

B: Make a plan

A plan helps you deal with your anxiety and most important it gives hope, it provides a way out.
For example, if the cause is your


Think of ways to move away from or change where you live. First, try a holiday and see how that feels, when you are away from whatever may be causing you distress

Physical Health:

See you doctor, have a simple check up and then relax. Modern medicine will pick up most significant illnesses, and if you have had a symptom for a while, if it was sinister, it would have you got you by now!


If you are having problems with the people around you, find someone to talk about the problem with to see whether the problem, is you or the other people or the effect you have on one another
Financial problems: These can be the most overwhelming, nonetheless a plan, any plan – even “phone Santa Claus”, helps clear your mind. Once you have a clear mind, it becomes possible to work on a more practical solution. For example, talk to someone from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for some ideas about what to do and where to go

Past experiences:
If your past haunts you, therapy can help, not to keep going over events but to find different ways to look at what has happened to you. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be useful, as can EMDR

3) Exercise:

Exercise is the antidote to adrenaline. Once upon a time, threats were physical. You were attacked by a tiger, you had to run away from a bear, your house leaked, you had to build a new one. You needed adrenaline to give you the energy to deal with the problem. Nowadays, threats are paper deadlines, lines on a bank statement, words on a piece of paper, difficult relationships which have to be negotiated not fought about. However the body does not know the difference and continues to produce adrenaline and prepare the body for a physical activity.

Exercise helps a person stay calm, whether it is walking, running, cycling, in a gym or playing football. It is important to find something you enjoy and do it regularly. There is nothing better to help you manage your mood and stay calm.

4) Breathing and relaxation therapies:

The quickest way to bring yourself under control in a crisis is to control your breathing.
Learn to breath slowly from your abdomen, rather than from the upper part of the lungs. There are many physiological reasons why slow abdominal breathing is better for you. Unless you are running away from a bear, in which case, just do what comes naturally, and quickly.

Put your hand on your stomach and as you breath in, slowly feel your hand being pushed out. Then breath out slowly for the count of four and your stomach will relax, hold the out breath for one, then begin to breath in again slowly. 1 – breath in 2, 3, 4, 5 – breath out slowly 6 – hold the out breath. Allowing your stomach to come out as you breath in feels unnatural to begin with. As you start learning to control your breathing it will feel as though you are suffocating – you won’t but it may feel uncomfortable until you get used to it.

Other ways of relaxation include meditation, hypnotherapy, listening to music and reading

5) Eat a healthy diet:

A health diet includes fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and free-range meat, with vitamins and omega 3 essential fatty acids

Eating a healthy diet is the best way to stay healthy – you are what you eat. If a food wasn’t around 10,000 years ago, it probably is not good for you! Has anyone ever seen a Kit Kat tree? A healthy diet helps keep your blood sugar stable. Nowadays, food is farmed intensively, picked when raw, ripens in a warehouse and waits several weeks before it is sold, multimineral, multivitamin are essential. Organic food both tastes better and is better for you. Finally omega 3 essential fatty acids are the natural fatty acids as opposed to the saturated fatty acids that come from farm animals and dairy products. Everyone needs at least one or two grams of omega 3s a day – these can come from fish – cod liver oil, or seeds and vegetables. Try

6) Avoid food and chemicals that are bad for you:

The purpose of a biscuit is to sell another biscuit. Food manufacturers do just that – they manufacture food. Factory processed food contains calories, preservatives and chemicals. Like alcohol and cigarettes, fast food, and processed food (using the word ‘food’ loosely) damage the liver, other organs and the brain. Westerners eating a western diet are some of the most unhealthy creatures on the planet. Caffeine, found in many canned drinks as well as tea and coffee makes anxiety worse as will any stimulant or sugar drink.

Despite the publicity, a healthy child does not need cows milk to develop healthy bones – it is just an easy food to use. Modern cows produce over 20 litres of milk a day. They manage this trick by producing large amounts of hormones to stimulate their udders. These hormones go into the milk and help cause breast and prostate cancer.

7) Talk to people:

Know you are not alone – find a mentor, find people who have been in your situation and managed to find a way out, talk to your friends, most people feel flattered to be asked their opinion. While you are sitting on your own with your anxieties they grow out of all proportion. Another person’s view can help defuse them and bring a sense of perspective and help you gain insight. It is not always easy to see the other side, especially if you are in the grip of anxiety. Nonetheless, the ability to see all sides is the beginning of insight. Friends and mentors can offer both support and alternative views, both are valuable

8) Talk to you – turn your inner critic to your inner coach:

Most of us talk to ourselves constantly and often we are not polite. We criticise ourselves at times we would offer other people unconditional support. The way to get the best from someone is to give them practical feedback. Life can be hard, but you deserve to give yourself the same respect you would give anyone else in your position. Love yourself as your neighbour!

Instead of tormenting yourself with what you have done wrong, teach yourself to ask a better question. Too often we ask “how stupid can I be?” To which your brain automatically replies “incredibly stupid! Just wait and see what I have in store”. An alternative question is “What have I learnt from this experience?” This will make your brain think of a more productive answer. Other questions might be “How would my best friend see this?” By asking better questions you can learn to lead a healthier and happier life.

Reassure yourself as you would a small child. Just as we get upset if someone is rude to us, so our brains get upset if we are rude to them. Always be polite, to yourself and others!

9) Deal with worrying thoughts:

There is a certain grim satisfaction to spending hours worrying. It is tempting to think, “At least, even if I cannot do anything, I can worry and that will show I care”. But mulling over the same ground hour after hour is bad for the brain, bad for your mood, bad for you and doesn’t solve the problem. Just as with a crossword clue, the answer come when you are not thinking about, the same is true for life’s problem. Worrying a problem to death does not solve it!

How to deal with repetitive thoughts:

The sooner you catch yourself doing it the better.

Look at your watch. Start to time your worry time. To begin with, most people only realise they are worrying, once they have been worrying for two or three hours

“STOP”: Tell yourself “STOP”, then move, go to a different room, change position, go out, come in, move physically to distract yourself

Worry Times: Set aside one or two times during the day specifically to worry. For example agree with yourself to worry only between 7am and 8am and 7pm and 8pm

Thought Tagging: Tag your thoughts. Outside your “worry hours” tag your thoughts with a phrase such as “I will think about that at 8 o’clock” or “I will learn something from this experience”. Every time a “worry thought” appears tag it with a phrase. Eventually your brain gives up, and the thoughts subside.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): CBT has useful strategies to help you manage your thoughts better. It should be taught in schools – a quick course of six sessions can change your life!

10) Kill the monster while it is small:

Anxiety, if left alone grows. The following story is about a man sitting in the corner of a room in Dulwich, tearing up pieces of paper. On being asked why he was tearing up pieces of paper, he replied that it “kept the elephants away”. On being told there were no elephants in Dulwich, he replied “See it works!” Unless you challenge your anxiety and find out what is happening, it can reach the point where you spend your whole time being anxious without understanding what is going on. Small anxieties grow into large anxieties, if they are not stopped.

Sometimes you have to accept that you are in a worrying position, and then the only answer is to accept the anxiety, let it wash over you and get on with what you are doing, regardless of your anxiety. But feeding or indulging your anxiety lets it grow.

Two Wolves
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves" inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Depression information
Mind gym – free on-line CBT
Mood and Food
Cruse – Bereavement 0844 477 9400
Samaritans – 24 hours helpline 08457 90 90 90

Copyright (c) Dr. Liz Miller
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