I often am asked for anxiety tricks of the trade to make anxiety go away or reduce in its impact. While there is no magic pill (not even Xanax) that will prevent anxiety, there are some simple strategies that can lessen the length and strength of anxiety symptoms. First it is important to understand how we often encourage these symptoms to “hang around”.
Most of us want the feelings or symptoms to just “stop” but in order to regulate our emotions, we have to accept that they are happening. Denial leads us to be confused about what we are feeling compared to what we want to be feeling. Feelings are just that “feelings”. They are not facts and do not have to dictate what we do. Accepting your feelings may be difficult but it increases your sense of courage and builds your strength in self. Psychology Today posted an article recently (May/June 2021) on anxiety that shared “Emotions are good consultants but lousy CEO’s. Consider their input but don’t let them take charge”. This is a very powerful statement about control. Your emotions can give you great information but they should not be the only source. Consider consulting with other sources such as your goals, values, experience, logic, google, friends, etc. Take in all this information and make an informed decision on your best course of action. Consider:
It may look like something, but use your varied sources for confirmation. Panicking prematurely only creates more distress. Make sure it’s something to get worked up about.
Setbacks are a natural part of forward movement. We often plan for things with the ideal in mind versus the reality. Take it as a learning opportunity and continue your forward movement.
Perhaps you are feeling anxious because this is the “thing that normally happens” when you get these feelings. Taking a moment to see if there are other ways to view the situation that might allow you to do something different.
But what do I do with all these symptoms? Consider improving your tolerance of temporary discomfort. Remember, what you cannot tolerate now will result in suffering later. Some simple ways to prepare for potential anxiety can also work when we are actively experiencing anxiety; but you have to be willing to invest in wanting things to change. Consider:
Movement can help you get unstuck. Bilateral movement (like walking, running, swimming) opens up the logic center in the brain to help realistic thoughts get a shot at helping you manage your situation.
Your body is made of mostly water, and when it is dehydrated, it can stop responding in ways you expect. This goes for your brain too.
Thinking about someone who problem solves well can help open you up to avenues you make have been blocked from seeing.
We often under estimate the amount of time and energy we will need to complete something. Our estimate is likely based on the ideal and not the reality of those bumps in the road. Consider breaking down larger tasks into more manageable pieces and set a timer to help you stay within your limit more effectively. Take a small break and tackle another piece. You will likely feel more motivated because you have already found some success.
Make plans with those people who create positive experiences in your life. Looking forward to an event creates positive anticipation and can boost your mood.
If you have 8 hours to accomplish 50 tasks you are likely going to struggle with quality. Take a few minutes each day to plan what you want to get done. Consider the 3 2 1 method.
- Task yourself with 3 things you want to accomplish at work. You might do more, but you will feel like you were successful with 3, where you will likely feel defeated if you tackle too many…..remember it will be there tomorrow too.
- List 2 things you want to do with your home/family life. The investment in your living space and your significant others will help you connect with why you are doing most everything.
- List 1 thing that you are going to do for yourself. This can be getting a massage, finding/reading a new book, to completing that project you can’t seem to find time for.
At the end of the day, you will have a pretty good list of 6 things you can say “I did it” with confidence.
Letting go of the need to control outcomes gives us the freedom to accept our situation and reflect on what is going well. Remember your track record for overcoming anxiety situations is actually very near 100%.
This nerve travels your entire body and helps you regulate your response to stimuli in a flight, fight or freeze moment. Interrupting this response can be helpful to achieve calm. By chewing gum, singing, or humming you target this nerve in your voice box area.
Find a safe place/space in your mind. This might take some planning, but being able to visualize a calm, pleasant, safe space can help you to relax and allow the anxiety to pass.
Talking in advance about what to do if…can be calming. Creating a ritual before an anxious experience can reduce the impact during the moment. Consider bringing a favorite book to read while waiting for an appointment or engaging in a small physical activity prior to a presentation.
There are many ways to consider managing anxiety. Acceptance is usually the first round of any process. What you tend to resist only becomes more apparent. Consider adding 1 or more of these tips to your repertoire and see if you can get better control of your responses.
Stephanie Phillips, LCMHCS, NCC, CCTP Psychotherapist & Owner
The Mindly Group, PLLC
Resources: Psychology Today May/June 2021
- 12 ways to curb anxiety – Getting to the other side doesn’t have to be so hard. Linda Eposito, LCSW
- Staying calm when everything goes wrong. Alice Boyes, Ph.D.
- 8 ways to help a child achieve calm. By Erin Leyba, LCSW, Ph.D.