This month our mental health columnist, Philippa Saunders, shares something we don’t know about anxiety (and a simple way to get rid of it)

You’re feeling anxious. You know you’re worrying about something irrational. You tell yourself to stop worrying about it, but you can’t. You get annoyed with yourself for not being about to snap out of it. Then, predictably, the cycle starts again.

Anxiety is just your body’s way of getting ready for action. Knowing it will be able to run away if you need to. But you can become oversensitive to anxiety, and when your thinking keeps the body’s stress response turned on, it can start harming you.

Here’s the irony: the more you want to not think about something, the more you will think about it. It is the way our minds work. The more you want to not feel anxious, the more anxious you will feel.

This is simple to demonstrate: close your eyes and picture a pink elephant. Big ears, long trunk, large feet…but it’s bright pink. Get a really vivid image in your mind of this pink elephant. Once you’ve got that image, try to stop thinking about the pink elephant. Try to think about anything BUT the pink elephant. Whatever you do, don’t think about the pink elephant.

Guess what? When you try to stop thinking about a pink elephant, that’s exactly what you’ll think about. You can try as hard as you want to stop thinking about it, but it’ll keep popping up.

So, what simple thing can you do to get out of this cycle?

Re-frame how you think about anxiety

Question: What do you do when you’re anxious? Avoid things, wrestle with it, be overwhelmed, give in to it, get frustrated and live in a constant battle?

Anxiety itself isn’t the problem, it’s the resistance to it that’s the problem. When we resist anxiety - when we try and fight it and get annoyed. But it’s like pouring petrol onto a fire.

What’s the key to overcoming anxiety?

Change the way you see it. Instead of seeing it as something to be rid of, learn to accept it as an emotion like all others. Anxiety is actually trying to protect you. It is created out of love, not hate. Safety, not fear. See it as helpful, not harmful. Accept it (for now), embrace it and learn to harness it. You can use it to push you forward in challenging situations.

When you can accept it, tolerate it. Let it be. Soon it quickly starts to lose its power.

Philippa Saunders is a licensed ThriveR Coach based in Knutsford. You can find her on Instagram @thrive.with.philippa and Facebook @thrivewithphilippa