The Good News About Managing Anxiety
Every week, clients tell me they’re constantly worrying, feeling nervous, or lying awake sleepless at night, kept awake by obsessive thoughts.Some even tell me they’re having panic attacks, where their heart races, they feel like they can’t breathe, can’t escape. These are classic symptoms of anxiety.
The good news? You can learn to manage anxiety, so it doesn’t have such a huge impact on your life and well-being. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious, try any one or all of these techniques to wrangle your anxiety into control.
Your body comes with an on-board calming system that you can call upon whenever you need it. Slow, deep breathing activates the body’s relaxation response, helping it go from fight-or-flight to its natural state of feeling calm and relaxed. To do this, inhale slowly through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath to a count of four, and then exhale to a count of four. Repeat until you feel your body—and mind—relaxing.
Slow it Down, Write it Down
When anxiety hits, it can feel like everything is moving way too fast. It helps to very intentionally stop, notice what’s going on around you, and just write it down. Scribble if you need to, but just write, using brief words or phrases like, “Traffic. Noise. I’m exhausted. I’m overwhelmed. I’m hungry. I’m frustrated. No one listens to me.” Just the simple act of writing something down can make a feeling less powerful, and can de-escalate anxious feelings.
Use Mindfulness Practices
Similar to writing things down, using mindfulness also involves slowing down the runaway train of racing thoughts. Anxiety comes from believing that a catastrophic thought is real, when in fact, thoughts are not reality! When a scary thought becomes real, it can easily snowball into what feels like an impending disaster. So just notice the thought, remind yourself that ‘it’s just a thought’, and let the thought drift away and pop like a bubble.
Learn Progressive Relaxation
You can set yourself up to tame anxiety by learning to cue your body into a calmer state. When it’s convenient each day, take a few moments to alternately tighten and relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and working up to your scalp. Then pair this relaxed feeling with a color or a visual image, along with a few words, like “be still.” Through this process, you’re actually training your brain to resist anxious thoughts and feelings.
When you notice yourself feeling anxious, you can summon that relaxed state by deep breathing, thinking of the cue words, and visualizing the color flowing through you. This tool will always ready for you to use to soothe your anxiety.
Keep in Mind, You Are Not a Victim
Anxiety most often comes from feeling overwhelmed and out of control; you interpret your experiences in a catastrophic, powerless way.Counteract this by consciously stopping catastrophic, victim-based thoughts. Again, thoughts are not reality, so tell yourself, “Stop! This isn’t true and I have power over my life.” Energize this by writing down three things that you handled well at the end of each day. Reflect on these accomplishments – no matter how small – as you go to sleep.
The goal in all of this is to gradually train your brain to replace overwhelm with calm, powerlessness with empowerment, and internal strife with inner peace. It won’t happen overnight, but if you use these techniques regularly, you’ll gain control over runaway anxiety…and your well-being!