Anxiety sucks. Sometimes it feels like our brains have been hijacked. We get caught on an endless hamster wheel of “what if’s”, self-doubt, and mind-reading that inevitably has us feeling worse. And no, I’m not going to tell you to just “stop worrying” because as a fellow anxious human I am well aware that if you could just stop- you would have by now. What I will say is we can make efforts every day to be more present, in the moment so that we lessen the amount of time we spend worrying and increase our enjoyment with what is going well in your life. Here are some of the top things that have helped my anxious clients, (and me), take back some control:
Focus on right now.
As anxious people, a lot of us tend to be “planners”. We “must” figure out every detail and spend a lot of time thinking about our futures. Goals are great and can be super motivating and helpful but when the future is uncertain we are likely just feeding that anxiety monster in our brain. When you start worrying about something you cannot fix, control or solve right now put it away until you can think about it without the charged emotions or you are in a better place to tackle that issue. Instead, of running on that hamster wheel take a mental break. Pause. Breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now. Ground yourself by identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell and name 1 thing you are grateful for. Even if something serious is happening, taking that 30 seconds to focus on the present will help you calm so you can manage the situation at hand.
Seems silly but plenty of studies have shown that just by acknowledging specific things you are grateful for each day helps to rewire your brain to focus more on the positives than the negatives (as us anxious folx tend to do). Be specific though and work it into your routine. I have found each morning when I wake up or at night before bed seems to be the best times. There are even now apps for your phone that will prompt you to put in your gratitude entry for the day, our favorites are: "Presently: A Gratitude Journal" for Android and "Grateful: A Gratitude Journal" for IOS. For tips on how to make the most out of your gratitude journaling check out this super helpful article.
Be an observer and accept your anxiety without judgment.
This I will say can take some practice but it is worth the time put in. It’s helpful to remember that anxious thoughts are just that- thoughts. They are not facts. They do not indicate something will happen, they are simply thoughts. It can be helpful to say to yourself “this is just my anxiety talking. I am okay” or “this feeling will pass”. Acknowledging our anxiety gives it less power, as we are not taking it as face value, just saying “hi I see you” and continuing on with our day. You have felt anxious before and though it does suck, you know it will pass. Trying to eliminate our anxiety sends the message that it is intolerable and only makes us to focus more of our attention on how we really dislike the feelings and sensations we are experiencing- serving to increase your panic.
Focus on what is in your control.
There are a lot of things that stress us out that we have absolutely no control over. For example: the upcoming election, Covid-19, being laid-off, or having to do remote learning. Event's like these can be really tough for an anxious person because we feel we have no control. Focusing on what we can do helps us to not spiral, stay positive and have a healthier outlook on life. Here is an exerciseto help you look at whats in your control: Get a piece of paper and write at the top whatever your anxiety. Than make 2 columns: What can I control? What is out of my control? For visual learners this helps to be in the moment and truly rationalizing your anxious thoughts. Focusing on what we have control over makes us feel more in control. Which decreases our anxiety.
Break down big goals into smaller steps.
For you future planners out there- break down the big stuff into littler steps.When there are 20 items on your to do list it can seem really overwhelming. Break it down over the week to what you can do each day. When you have a big task with lots of steps, write down the smaller steps and give yourself due dates for those steps. When you have large future goals you have no idea how you are going to accomplish (i.e. graduating school, getting your dream job, buying a home) set small goals to help you get there and focus on the small goals for now. Such as, setting aside money each paycheck for a house, or searching for a better job with a pay increase so you can afford to buy a house.
As always, if you feel you need further assistance managing your anxiety, contact a local therapist or speak with your doctor. Anxiety can be a really challenging thing to manage and seeking help to learn the skills you need to cope can have a significant positive impact on your overall health, well-being and future.