Anxiety is a state of unease or worry, sometimes referred to as nervousness, typically experienced over impending events or potential future events. Anxiety is experienced by everyone to some degree and is a natural, healthy way for our brains to protect ourselves in times of danger. Sometimes though, anxiety can be pervasive. The extent to which we experience anxiety can be visualized on a spectrum. On one end, there are those who experience it rarely and it is easily managed while on the opposite end exist others with frequent, intense symptoms. Some people require medication, often along with counseling, to manage these symptoms. Whether you experience anxiety daily or on occasion, there are several things you can do to manage symptoms in anxious moments.
1) Breathe. Breathing can impact anxiety in either a positive or negative way. Getting worked up and upset usually leads to short, shallow breaths. This increases your heart rate which, in turn, fuels the anxiety. When you feel the first sign of anxiety, take a moment to focus on your breathing. Taking several long, deep breaths will slow your heart rate. After 5 minutes your symptoms should begin to improve.
2) Write about it. Believe it or not, writing down thoughts and fears can actually help eliminate them. Grab a notebook and start a journal. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write every day - just when you are experiencing anxiety or otherwise feel the desire. State your emotions such as “I am angry” or “I feel worried.” Write about thoughts you are having. If you have a counseling session coming up, and feel comfortable doing so, bring the journal. You and your therapist can analyze the thoughts you have recorded to try to identify patterns or triggers. This can really help the progress you are making in counseling as it provides insight for your therapist and allows the two of you to tailor a plan to your specific needs.
3) Identify cognitive distortions. I have a bracelet I wear often in session that reads “Don’t believe everything you think.” I think it is a great reminder that the thoughts we often have are just that – thoughts. It is easy to begin to accept our own thoughts as fact and that can increase anxiety. Examine your thoughts. Try to determine if you are making assumptions or jumping to conclusions or if there is supporting evidence to back up what you are thinking. Key words to watch out for include “always,” “never” and “should.” People experiencing anxiety tend to think in absolutes. If you find that you are thinking this way, discuss it with your therapist. He or she can help you identify and eliminate cognitive distortions which will assist you in managing anxiety.
4) Practice self care. You know the safety speech when you board an airplane where they say to put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others? Think of your mental health in the same way. You need to take care of yourself first and foremost.
If you don’t, you will be of little help to those around you. Get a massage, take a bath, attend a yoga class, pursue a hobby or find something else that you can do to care for yourself. We often put the metaphorical oxygen mask on others before ourselves. Proper self care on a regular basis will naturally lessen anxiety. When we take care of ourselves, our mental health improves overall.
The next time you experience anxiety, take a minute to consider the things you can do to try to manage it on your own. If you find that these methods are not helping or that your anxiety is interfering with your daily life - or if symptoms are worsening or becoming unmanageable, booking a
ession with a licensed therapist c