Firemen do not drive around looking for fires. They are in the firehouse playing cards. When a fire is reported, they respond with rapid action based on their training.
Whether they are anxious or not has nothing to do with what happens…
What happens when you are having anxiety?
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There are times when our minds can be triggered by external events into a swirl of worry, upset, fear and even terror.
When that happens our body gets involved and many systems in the body respond as we feel our heart pounding, forget to breathe, tightness in the chest, nausea or other sensations.
At that time, it is as if our logical mind is offline. And for all intents and purposes it is.
These are normal responses to danger and they make us strong, motivated and alert. When the danger is perceived (in my thoughts only) then this constellation of responses is not beneficial.
How to overcome anxiety
There are many definitions of anxiety but most agree on three points:
1. Anxiety is subjective and seen as an unrealistic fear
2. The autonomic nervous system is activated – heart pounding for example
3. Behaviors unite to get away from the anxiety-provoking stimulus – seek escape (Greenberg, 2013)
Because there is a mind and a body component in this definition, paying attention to both makes sense. Yes, we can address anxiety with avoidance techniques such as taking drugs, drinking alcohol or many other ways that negatively impact our lives.
Normal yes: Optimal: no
Here are some ways to tackle anxiety that don’t have side effects.
A specific event triggers anxiety
This may be a response to taking a test, job interview, important client meeting, having a baby.
In this case, the worry component is generally about failing. Here is what to do (if you cannot just avoid the event):
1. Self talk
Change the way you are thinking about the situation in order to look at it differently (comedians do this all the time). Using self talk requires some objectivity.
What is the real risk and what is the worst case?
For example: if you must give a speech what will happen? Will the audience throw tomatoes at you and boo you and take you off to jail? Realistically the worst case is that they will not ask you back and that just frees up time for something else.
2. Breathe and rest
For this type of anxiety it is possible for many people to take a moment to pay attention to the body and get into a more calm state.
Taking a breath (a deep breath) and then breathing out longer than you did breathing in is a good way to sooth the nervous system. (To be honest, it is good to count this out….. breath in 2 3 …..breathe out 2 3 4).
On a scale of 1 to 10, decide how anxious you are right now. Then do your breathing and look at that scale again. What sense do you have of that number now?
A general sense of anxiety
This type of anxiety is not tied to any specific event but is a lingering sense of dread. A part of the mind is wanting to keep a person safe and alert.
Normal: yes Optimal: no
Our nervous system is not meant to be on hyper alert for long periods of time without suffering from thought distortions and illness.
Here is a way to overcome this type of anxiety:
Yes, you may have seen someone with a rubber band around their wrist that they snap when they begin to notice they are anxious (thoughts and body). Why does it work and how can you do it without that band (unless you like that)?
Here is the secret. You are not your thoughts, especially when anxious, so it’s ok to control them and stop them. Coupled with this is having a sense of being in your body in the moment.
There are few alternatives to use:
– Say stop to your thoughts and snap a rubber band.
– Say stop to your thoughts and breathe into a sense of rest and calm.
– Say stop to your thoughts and notice each part of your body settling and releasing tension beginning at the top of your head and ending at your feet.
– Say stop to your thoughts and substitute a more realistic thought for the negative one.
To do this look up and breath for a few moments. Then notice what you realize about this moment right now and what is happening right around you. There is so much that you control right there.
A final word
These tips are a starting point for you to deal with anxiety and there are many more. Consider rebelling, self talk and thought stopping as basic tools in your tool box.
You may wonder why I did not mention meditation.
Yes, that is the Cadillac of what each of us can do for ourselves to clear stress and anxiety. And yet, in my experience, most of the folks that I see are not able to consider it as an option.
If you are, yes do it and you will be so glad. If you cannot just yet, that’s fine as it will be there as an option in the future.
If your anxiety is negatively impacting your life and these tools do not help, consider seeing a counselor as there are ways to help you recognize how to learn and grow from challenges such as anxiety. This state of mind and body can be cleared and you can live the life you wish.
Remember “sensations are only sensations and are happening at this moment.” (Connelly, 2014)
Connect with Expert Dorothy Rodwell.