Anxiety is a natural interaction between our mind and body. It’s typically a warning that something might be happening in our surroundings that demands our attention.
For most of us, anxiety is an unpleasant but fleeting feeling that pops up on occasion during particularly stressful times. For some, anxiety is a regular part of life. And still for others, anxiety is a constant torture: a nightmare they can’t awaken from.
Depending on your level of anxiety, there are techniques you can use to manage it. Here are four we recommend:
Increase Your Awareness
How often are you aware of your own thoughts? Our thoughts tend to bubble up from our self-conscious without much control from our conscious mind. For those experiencing anxiety, many of these thoughts are negative and frightening. However, the majority aren’t based in reality.
Start to pay attention to the thoughts behind the feelings. Remember, you can’t experience a feeling without a thought that precedes it. Instead of thinking the worst will happen, challenge the thought. What is the realistic likelihood the worst will happened on a scale of 1-10?
Countless studies have demonstrated that one of the most effective ways to increase awareness of your thoughts is through meditation. This can be a simple as a 10 second meditation done throughout your day, or a 20 minute meditation practiced regularly. However, it can’t be overstated, the more you practice, the more you will increase awareness of your thoughts and subsequently retrain your mind to process life differently.
Remind Yourself That It’s Just Anxiety
Beyond fearful emotions, anxiety often comes with physical sensations like tightness in the chest, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. In other words, sometimes it can feel like you are dying. But you are not. You are simply having a physical response to an irrational fear or thought. Sometimes simply becoming aware of this, reminding yourself that you are OK, and focusing on your breathing is enough to bring the physical symptoms to a manageable level.
Learn Your Triggers
Once you learn to pay attention to your thoughts and remain calm when you’re having a natural reaction to something you perceive as a threat, practice identifying the origin of the perceived threat. Triggers can be people, places, or things. As you begin to increase your awareness, it becomes easier to identify your triggers.
Sometimes triggers are thought patterns that we aren’t even aware are occurring. If you find yourself suddenly becoming anxious for no apparent reason, stop and focus on your thoughts. Trace your thoughts back until you find the culprit. The more you practice this, the more it becomes second nature.
Sometimes our triggers can be certain people. Do you frequently find your heart rate increasing and your palms sweating when you are around a particular co-worker or acquaintance? Pay special attention to unpleasant physical sensations you may experience when around certain people.
This cannot be overstated. Multiple studies have demonstrated that slow, deep breaths have been shown to instantly calm a person. Your heart rate will slow, your muscles will relax, and your entire body will return to a normal state of being. Don’t underestimate the power of just taking a moment to breathe. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Sometimes counting as you do this or reciting a calming mantra is helpful as well. Even just doing this for 5 deep breaths can make a world of difference.
If you find these steps are not enough and you need more help, you may want to consider reaching out more guidance. A well-trained therapist can assist with teaching mindfulness skills, basic and advanced meditation techniques, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises, all of which can have a significant effect on anxiety symptoms.
James Killian, LPC is an anxiety counselor in Woodbridge, CT and the principal therapist and owner of Arcadian Counseling. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, don’t hesitate to contact them to schedule a free consultation.