Anxiety is a frame of mind that everyone experiences at one time or another. For some it is an uncomfortable feeling that will be dealt with as best a possible. This form of anxiety is likely to plague everyone at some point in their life whether it’s a major life event, transition, or big decision. For some people, anxiety is a more constant companion, coloring much of everyday life and for others anxiety feels like torture, controlling every waking moment and wreaking havoc all the time.
When it doesn’t feel torturous or isn’t consistently coloring the fabric of everyday life, anxiety can be seen as a red-alert of sorts. It’s a reaction that tells us that something is wrong and requires attention but won’t kill us (no fight or flight response in this case).
Whether anxiety is something that you experience rarely, something that colors your everyday life, or is a controlling factor in your life, below are five strategies that can help you deal with anxiety.
- Challenge anxious thoughts.
A lot of thinking is negative and irrational. You may be so used to thinking about the worst-case scenario presenting itself that thinking any other way has become alien to you. You need to stop and challenge what you believe to be true about what you fear and what negatively occupies your thoughts.
In other words, you need to retrain your thinking to learn to process what happens to you in a different way, instead of jumping into the usual patterns that feed your anxiety. Ask yourself: How do you know your anxious thoughts are based in reality? How likely is it that what you fear will actually happen? Is there perhaps a more realistic way to think about what could/will happen? Can you visualize a more positive outcome?
- Recognize some negative thinking patterns that foster worry, fear, and anxiety.
Be careful about seeing things as either/or, should/shouldn’t, right/wrong, or black/white with no shades of gray. Be aware of the tendency to exaggerate the negative and diminish the positive. Understand your tendency to jump to catastrophe as the outcome. Be aware of diminishing your own capability to successfully get through a situation. And challenge the imagined scenario of being humiliated, criticized, and judged because you feel you are incapable of rising to the occasion and conquering your fears and anxieties.
- Cultivate optimistic thinking.
Psychologist Martin Seligman believes that people can learn how to think optimistically. It begins with teaching yourself to keep thinking about the specific, rather than the general — how your worry or fear fits into the bigger picture of your life, rather than becoming the bigger picture of your life — because your life is much, much bigger than any worry, fear, or anxiety will ever be.
The suggestion is that by creating a thinking strategy that explains a problem or issue, you are better able to make a plan to do something about it. In other words, de-personalize the problem; take yourself out of it so you can do something about changing the situation, rather than being part of the problem, where you may feel helpless and powerless to control the situation. Think about situations or problems as temporary and changeable, rather than long-term or permanent. That way, they can change. Taking even baby steps can lead the way to constructive solutions rather than feeling overwhelmed, defeated, or stuck.
- Take a timeout.
Give your brain a break. Take a mental vacation with mindful meditation or a walk in nature. Relaxation and leisure are essential to a full, balanced life. If this is alien to you, it’s time to start scheduling some R&R into your weekly calendar. Yoga, listening to music, self-nurturing (e.g., massage), anything that takes you out of your head and incessant worrying is beneficial to your all-around well-being. And, of course, focus on living a healthy lifestyle — eating well, exercising daily, getting enough sleep, and anything else that helps you express your healthy, whole presence in the world.
- Create an anxiety toolbox.
An anxiety toolbox is a set of practices you can take with you wherever you go and use them whenever the need arises. Some items in you toolbox should be:
Asking questions – When anxiety hits ask yourself these questions: Am I blowing the situation, and my anxiety, out of proportion? On a scale of 1 to 10, where does the situation and the accompanying anxiety realistically sit? Have the catastrophic consequences and the worst-case scenario I always worry about ever come to pass? Even if something is really wrong, am I capable of finding a healthier/more satisfactory solution? Use these questions to create a better reality and outcome based on your successful responses to past experiences.Taking action – this may include going for a walk, meditating, listening to music, exercising, calling a supportive friend, attending a worship service, journaling, or using helpful affirmations or mantras. Use what you’ve learned from past experiences to help calm yourself and bring back your sense of control.
Controlling physical responses – how do you handle physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, or even fear of passing out? If these are components of your anxiety, you can employ various techniques — breath work, relaxation techniques, guided meditations — on your own or with a practitioner, so that when symptoms arise, you are prepared to utilize what you’ve learned.
eMindlog™ can also become a resource in your anxiety toolbox. You can utilize it to measure your daily levels of anxiety and worry, allowing to you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions to certain situations. By using eMindLog™ over time, you’ll be able to see trends in your behavior or thinking and you may also be able to pinpoint events or situations that trigger your anxiety.
Make eMindLog™ a part of our toolbox by signing up here.
These strategies were originally posted by Abigail Brenner M.D. on In Flux.