Anxiety can have a life of its own. One second you may seemingly be fine, while the next you are caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that can often paralyze you or make it that much harder to get through your day. While it may sometimes seem as if your anxiety came on out of the blue, gaining insight into what triggers your anxiety can be the first step in helping you overcome it. Below you will find the major cause for most anxiety reactions and some tips to help you cope:
Your thoughts. Your mind is a powerful machine. It can help you sort through complex problems or emotions and get you through the most difficult of times. But sometimes things go awry – you find yourself constantly worrying about a variety of situations, mainly pertaining to the future or the unknown. Before you know it, you’re thinking about finances, your performance in school or at work, what others may think of you, your physical health, and even your emotional well-being. If you’ve ever experienced spiraling out with your thoughts, you know how intense it can be, often causing sleepless nights, aches and pains, or even ulcers at its most extreme. But it’s important to know you are not alone. Many, if not most, people have trouble reigning it in at times. And sometimes your thoughts may be rooted in realistic problems you may be facing, thus you think it may be in your best interest to spend time laboriously going over them. So what can you do?
Sort out your worries: is this a situation or concern that is realistic and can be resolved with the help of some problem solving techniques, or, are you worrying about hypothetical problems or situations you cannot predict?
If it is the former, it may be beneficial to discuss your concerns with a person whom you find to be supportive and willing to listen. If no such person is available, try writing down what is troubling you – experiencing some trouble landing a job? –
Write out an action plan. Create small, realistic goals for yourself to accomplish everyday rather than focusing on the big, often daunting, picture.
If it’s the later and you find yourself stuck on hypotheticals and things that are out of your control, it can be helpful to:
Spend some time monitoring yourself. Are there certain situations or times of day when you are more prone to worrying? Take some time to jot some notes down and see if you fall into any patterns. This can also be a helpful way to track your progress once you’ve implemented some techniques.
From here, people have found a variety of techniques to be helpful – figure out which ones you gravitate towards (and are realistic for you) and try to implement them (trying your best to remember that change takes time so don’t give up if you don’t get the results you want right away!).
Mindfulness meditation. There has been an abundance of research in recent years toting the benefits of meditation for your physical and emotional well-being. Mindfulness practices, can teach you how to be in the present moment, rather than spending your time off in the unknown future somewhere. By constantly bringing yourself back to the present moment through various meditation exercises, you can learn how to consciously control your thoughts instead of being overtaken by them. There are many classes and groups now that offer these skills to be learned in just a few short weeks – just remember practice makes perfect, so keep it up!
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). As with mindfulness, CBT has been empirically validated across thousands of studies to be effective in treating anxiety. While it may be helpful to seek assistance from a mental health professional who is trained in CBT to guide you in implementing these skills, some techniques you can try on your own include:
Scheduling “worry times.” I know, you may be thinking, how in the world can this help? But it can! A common technique used to try to abate anxiety in CBT is to save up all your worries for a specific time of day (preferably at the end of the day and in a non-“fun” setting, such as the office). Write out your main concerns and try to think constructively about your concerns for about 45 minutes. After you are done, try to do something you find fun or relaxing and save up all your worries for the next day at the same time. This can really help you feel more in control of your worries.
Expose yourself. Again, I know that sounds scary, but the more you imagine your feared scenarios, the less power they will have over you. When we worry, we typically think about things as the worst case scenario or we catastrophize. This can bring about a cascade of further negative thoughts and feelings, which eventually lead us to avoid our feared situation or cause other maladaptive behaviors. The more you play over the worst case scenario in your head by imagining it, the more you will become accustomed to it, and the less fear you will have. It’s kind of like watching a scary movie over and over again – the first few times might have been horrible, but by the 10th time you know what’s coming and it isn’t so scary anymore. Just remember to keep it to one feared situation at a time!
Remember, pick a strategy that works for you and stick to it. And if you get stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are professionals that are trained in helping you overcome whatever difficulties you are facing.
Contact me today to see how I can help.