Do you suffer from anxiety?
I’ve only recently realized the extent to which I’ve experienced anxiety in my life. I think if you’ve been experiencing anxiety for long enough, it can feel normal. However, the more I learn about anxiety, the more I am able to recognize it. Here are some tips to help you recognize, manage, and eliminate anxiety in your life.
One of the first things to understand about anxiety that your mind is trying to protect you. The main job of your mind is protection. The mind wants to keep you safe and it uses several strategies to accomplish that mission. It assesses the environment to determine your general safety level. (This may be conscious or subconscious.) and it thinks about potential scenarios in advance of their happening. This can be helpful in preparing for the future. However, anxiety and anxiety disorders take these strategies to a whole new level by thinking, thinking, thinking.
You may not even be aware that you are feeling anxious. Your mind may start reviewing a situation, over and over, trying to find a solution. The solution may feel out of reach. So, you keep thinking about it, trying to find the answer. Similar to the overthinking, compulsive or repetitive behavior may show up. This could be anything like needing certain things to be completed in order to feel okay to compulsive cleaning, or compulsively scanning social media. In all these ways, the mind is trying create safety.
Recognize and Understand Your Anxiety
It is very easy to get stuck in anxious, mental ruts. The most important thing, is to be able to recognize the anxious thinking and patterns as they happen, and to interrupt them. The more a person is able to step back from their thinking and recognize anxiety for what it is, the easier it is to disrupt the pattern. By interrupting and redirecting the mind, it is possible to get out of the anxious thinking. Some people find that repeating a specific phrase, like “cancel, cancel” or “stop now, stop now” several times, helps break the pattern.
Witness Your Thoughts
By developing what is known as “witness consciousness,” one can begin to create a small space between themselves and their thoughts. Witness consciousness can be cultivated through yoga, meditation, and mindfulness techniques, or basically any activity where the mind is fully engaged in the present moment. By practicing mindfulness, you can create enough space between yourself and your thoughts that you will be able to choose and negate the thoughts that do not serve you. (Shelley Kind, 2014)
Anxiety can cause biochemical changes in your brain. (Micah Abraham, 2020) Single thoughts may or may not have an effect on your brain chemistry, but when the mind starts to repeat or ruminate on a thought, a downward spiral and a subsequent biochemical change can take place. Recognizing how you are feeling in the moment can help to recognize the biochemical changes as well.
Focus on Your Body
One of the easiest ways is to start focusing on the body. Start to check in and notice how your body is feeling on a regular basis. Take note of your breathing. Is it shallow or deep? With anxiety, the breath can be very shallow. One way to interrupt highly anxious thinking is to take some deep breaths into the belly. Take note of your heart rate. Is your heart beating fast? By lengthening the exhale, the heart rate is slowed down and the nervous system is calmed. So, taking long, slow breaths can be helpful
Identify the Cause
When your heart is beating fast or you are perspiring, ask yourself “What thoughts are causing this?” Sometimes, you will know immediately. You will know very clearly what situation or event is causing your anxiety. Other times, you may have to dig a bit. You may have to work to uncover what is actually bothering you. Sometimes, you may think you are anxious about one thing, but actually there is something else that is making you anxious. Interestingly, in some cases just identifying the actual cause of the anxiety will reduce or eliminate it.
Determine the Likelihood
At this point, it might be helpful to examine whether the fearful thoughts are actually accurate. Sometimes, our mind tries to protect us by focusing on the worst case scenario. If we can stop and ask ourselves what the likelihood of the worst case scenario coming true actually is, we find that it is unlikely. In addition, sometimes taking the emotion out of the situation and thinking about the actual probability helps. For example, asking yourself “What percentage likelihood would I assign to this situation? Is it 100% likely to happen? Is it 10% likely to happen? Is it 1% likely to happen?” Realizing that there is actually very little chance of it happening can sometimes set the mind at ease.
Recognize Physical Safety
It may be helpful to remind yourself that you are actually safe in this moment, that there is no current threat to your survival. The worst case scenario will probably not happen and that there are many things that could happen to prevent the worst case scenario from happening. And in this present moment you are safe and have your basic needs met.
Take a Small Step
Once you are clear on what is actually causing your anxiety and your basic physical safety, you might ask yourself “What is one small step I can take toward resolving the situation? Once you take that small step you might feel a tremendous sense of relief just knowing that you have moved forward. You may suddenly have the energy to take the next step. But, don’t push yourself too hard. Congratulate yourself on taking the first step.
Get it out
An anxiety provoking situation may have several different facets to it and a first step might not be readily apparent or available. It is easy to become overwhelmed and to feel stuck. One strategy to deal with the sense of overwhelm and confusion is to get the thoughts and feelings out.
Write about it
Journaling is a powerful way to get your thoughts and feelings out of your mind and onto paper. Free writing is a technique where you begin to write without an agenda and just follow your stream of consciousness. Allow the words to flow, knowing that there is no audience for your writing. When you get all the thoughts and feelings out, you may feel a tremendous sense of relief, as if you have just unburdened your mind. And essentially, you have. You have taken what was bottled up inside you and you released it. What was once stored on the inside is now also on the outside.
Talk about it
Another way to process thoughts and feelings is to talk about it with either a trusted friend or a professional counselor. Hearing your thoughts out loud gives you a different perspective. Suddenly it’s not just you carrying the concern. Another person is sharing it, which lightens the load. And talking with a counselor on a regular basis can provide a sense of stability in life that further reduces anxiety.
The most important thing about reducing anxiety is to recognize your anxiety when it is happening and then uses the preceding tactics and strategies to overcome it. Over time, you will begin to see patterns of thought and behavior and you will be able to stop the anxiety before it gets out of hand. Keep in mind that it is possible to get control of anxiety and to feel calm, relaxed, and positive. Just take it one step at a time.
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=abstract&utm_content=Anxiety&utm_campaign=Knowledge-panel
Micah Abraham, B. (2020, October 10). The Biochemistry of Anxiety. Retrieved from The Calm Clinic: https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/biochemistry-of-anxiety
Philip R. Muskin, M. M. (2021, June). Psychiatry.org. Retrieved from American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders
Shelley Kind, B. (2014, November 10). Facts about the effects of mindfulness. Retrieved from Anxiety.org: https://www.anxiety.org/can-mindfulness-help-reduce-anxiety