I feel like I am often on repeat when talking about the cycle of anxiety – so I figured, why not share my white board with everyone else to benefit as well. Here are a few [snapshot] steps to managing and accepting your anxiety.
Figure out where you feel your anxiety. Anxiety is a physical energy that manifest in some part of your body. This usually happens before you even realize logically that you are anxious. Some people feel it in their gut (IBS is linked with this – nauseous, running to the bathroom for other issues, butterflies or tightness.) Others feel it in their hands or feet, clenched jaw, sore neck or tightness in their chest. Anxiety can make you wonder if you actually have a stomach virus or if you are ‘just nervous’.
Be mindful. After you figure out where you feel it – be mindful of how often you are feeling it. Are there specific times of day or around certain people? Start to look for patterns. Start to realize how often or how rarely you do feel it.
Breathe. When you feel your anxious energy, breathe through it. Slow down and breathe. Four counts in, five counts hold, six counts out. Repeat a few times.
Recognize the avoidant behaviors. Now that we have been able to breathe through the anxiety. What are your avoidant behaviors? Are you an over-thinker? Do you think about all possible scenarios to attempt to control that anxious or uncomfortable feeling? Do you obsessively clean your house or car to avoid feeling overwhelmed? Do you put blame on others and spiral quickly into rage when feeling out of control? We can talk for days about how these are protective coping skills that you have probably developed at a very young age. They are things that you have developed to help you survive.
Question if the avoidant behaviors are working anymore. This is usually when I start to see people in my office. They are feeling trapped by their coping skills. Cleaning the house on Saturdays turned into rearranging the house on Saturdays and cleaning the house daily. Which turned into not being able to sleep until the house is spotless and everything is in its order. Hypervigilance or over-thinking is the same way. You are no longer able to think through all the scenarios to come to a best conclusion – which now ends with some horrific thing happening so you can at least come to some peace with that… but not really. And there are just TOO many things to control them all. You are perpetually overwhelmed and anxious.
Break the cycle of avoidant behaviors. Work to honor you anxiety and be in it the uncomfortable feelings. Work on grounding the emotions. Focus on the present and be in the moment. Give yourself time to feel. We also call this ‘Sitting in it’. Don’t immediately start doing something else to avoid feeling the anxiety. We tend to believe that if we don’t find something to distract our mind we will be unable to control it. Fun Science Fact: if you do have an emotional, raw moment – that moment can only last 60-90 seconds because that is all the human body can allow. If you stop working to avoid the feelings and just ‘sit in it’ or work through it – the raw emotion won’t last too long. I like to think of this as those moments when you are in a spinning class and everything hurts and you are going to break – but you keep going and a few minutes later you know longer feel like you are going to physically or emotionally crash (unless of course you really hurt yourself – but that is self-awareness and whole other topic)…
Figure out your perceived truth that lead to the overwhelming anxiety. What is the core shame that you are striving to avoid feeling? Anxiety is natural and everyone feels some level of it. Some people have wiring that makes them predisposed to feeling overwhelmed and anxious faster than others.
Work to accept your anxiety as a part of you. If you have been anxious since you were two – guess what, I will never say you won’t be anxious ever again. We want to work on lessening the intensity, frequency, and duration of anxiety attacks. But to do that, you need to acknowledge that you are a person with anxiety and that is OK. We call this Acceptance Cognitive Therapy. Let’s figure out the patterns and the negative thoughts associated with the anxiety. Let’s work to extinguish the anxiety attacks that come from potentially having an anxiety attack.
Lastly, figure out the self-care that works for you. Yoga, Meditation, Message, Running, Jujitsu, Reading, Writing, Painting, Being with Friends, Being alone, Bubble Bath, TV, Therapy… Yes we need to work on being mindful and present in the moment with anxiety, but also focus on the other things you enjoy to lessen the times your feel anxious. And, please, don’t compare yourself to others when it comes to self-care – do YOUR THING.