We all feel anxious sometimes and sadly some lives are ruled by anxiety. As a psychologist, I deal with anxiety on a daily basis. Anxiety can show up in different ways in your life. It can look like worry, panic attacks or feeling awkward in social situations.
One thing you may find interesting is that no matter what type of anxiety you have, treatments for anxiety all have similar components. Knowing these can help to manage your own anxiety and perhaps you can spread the word and help a loved one too!
Here are a few of my psychological Jedi mind tricks for managing anxiety:
Approach, don’t avoid. This one is so important, I could really make it the only point in this blog! I can’t tell you how much time I spend informing my clients about the harm in avoidance and the benefits of facing your fears.
It’s a natural human tendency to avoid something that is scary. Avoidance kept us alive when lions were trying to eat us. The problem is…in modern society, we’re mostly troubled by imaginary problems!
You’ve got to face what you’re afraid of. Do it as often as you can and you’ll really reduce your anxiety.
You’ve got to stay! Here’s where most people go wrong. They decide to face their fears, but then they leave the fearful situation too soon. This actually strengthens anxiety!
When you decide to face your fears, you’ve got to stay in the situation until your anxiety goes down by about half. This is where you’ll really start to reap the rewards of facing your fears. If your anxiety isn’t going down, just stick around for an hour. Give yourself an inner high five and try again the next day.
Relaxation is a skill to build. I often hear people say that they tried their deep breathing/relaxation/meditation when they were in the stressful situation, but it didn’t help. The thing is, you need to have a really developed skill there in order to use it when you’re anxious.
It’s like this: imagine you’re a soldier and you’re on the battlefield. You don’t want to learn how to use your gun at that point! You need to practice over and over in advance to be able to bring the skill into stressful situations.
Use a relaxation strategy every day. Sit in a quiet place, slow down your breath and every time a though pops into your head, gently release it. You can focus on your breath, a word (like “peace” or “calm”) or a recording. If you want structure, go on Youtube, check out an app (I like Calm and Headspace) or join a meditation class.
Your thoughts are likely working against you, but this can be changed. When you struggle with anxiety, you’re likely having unhelpful thoughts like, “I can’t handle this” or “I need to leave.” What you want to do is begin to recognize your unhealthy thought patterns and begin to replace them with more helpful thoughts. Good examples are, “This feeling won’t last forever” or “I can get through this.”
We all feel anxious sometimes. What strategies do you want to start using to manage your anxiety? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!