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Anxiety Management Course - Session 1

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

At PSS Wellbeing Centres we offer a practical and supportive approach for managing anxiety and usually this is run as a 7 week facilitated course. The course includes discussions, learning the theory, practical exercises and therapeutic approaches to assist people with better managing stress & anxiety.

During this time of “staying at home” we’re bringing our Wellbeing courses to you in video form.

In the videos below course facilitator, Paddy, will lead you through the course. And in between the videos is the information from the course booklet.

Understanding Anxiety

The term anxiety covers everything from worry to panic attacks. It is a normal reaction sometimes referred to as fight or flight and is part of our evolutionary development. If we think about a time when we lived in caves and wild animals were our neighbours, we needed to be prepared to fight them off or run away and anxiety enabled us to do this. We still have this ability, but when we feel it in everyday situations where we’re not in any obvious danger, it can be very frightening. This course will explain why this happens and what we can do to manage it.

Anxiety affects us in three different ways:

In our bodies We feel different sensations when we’re anxious, such as a rapid heart rate and tension in our muscles. In our thinking We worry, we imagine what terrible things may happen, we may tell ourselves we can’t cope. In our behaviour What do we do when we’re in a situation that makes us anxious? Do we leave (run away) or do we avoid it altogether?

During the course we’ll look at these three areas in detail so you can fully understand how and why anxiety affects you. And we’ll teach you some simple exercises and techniques to help you manage it.

Anxiety can also lead to a loss of confidence because we find it difficult to do things which we used to think of as easy or just part of our routine. So we’ll look at how you can rebuild your confidence through manageable steps.

But let’s start with the physical feelings you have when you’re feeling anxious. Then we’ll compare these with what happens inside the body when it’s preparing for fight or flight.

What are your physical symptoms?

Make a list of all the physical sensations you have when you’re feeling anxious.

This is what happens inside our bodies during fight or flight:

The Importance of Breathing

When we feel anxious, almost every response in our body is automatic, which means we can’t control it. But there’s one thing we can control and that’s our breathing. It’s the most important tool we have to change the way we’re feeling and as it’s always with us we can practice using this tool wherever we are.

Our body knows that when we’re relaxed then our breathing is relaxed too. So it doesn’t feel the need to respond as if we’re in danger. The heart doesn’t race and adrenalin and extra sugar aren’t released.

So it follows that if we do start to feel anxious, we can stop these automatic responses from happening by consciously breathing in a relaxed way. This can take a bit of practise, but in time we can make breathing our automatic response to feeling anxious and stop it from getting worse.

Square Breathing

This is an exercise which will help you to slow your breathing down if you start to feel anxious. You may find it helps to look at something square like a window or a picture frame.

  1. Breathe in slowly for a count of four

  2. Hold for a count of four

  3. Breathe out slowly for a count of four

  4. Hold for a count of four

You may want to repeat this a few times before returning to breathing normally.

If your breathing is relaxed your stomach should rise when you breathe in and fall when you breathe out.


Some of the symptoms you feel when you’re anxious are because your breathing is faster and more shallow than if you were relaxed.

When our body is getting ready for fight or flight, it wants more oxygen so our heart and muscles can react quickly to get us out of danger.

But when we’re feeling anxious in the supermarket or when we’re out socialising, that oxygen doesn’t get used because we’re not fighting anything or running away from a real danger.

So we end up having more oxygen than we’re going to use and this can lead us to feel any or all of the following symptoms:

Shortness of breath Headaches and dizziness Tingling in the hands and feet Muscle tremors and cramps Feelings of unreality Tension Exhaustion Indigestion

If you use the square breathing exercise, or even just consciously slow your breathing down you will start to feel better.

The important thing here is not to get anxious about whether you’re doing the exercise right. Just find your own rhythm. What works for you is what’s right.

Remember that breathing in a relaxed way helps to reduce your anxiety.


-Fight or flight is our built-in natural and automatic reaction to danger.

-When anxiety has become a problem this reaction happens when there is no real danger.

-The physical symptoms we feel are a normal part of this reaction.

-Breathing is the way in to managing anxiety.

Suggestion for the coming week:

Practise a breathing exercise 3 times a day.

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