Taming the Anxiety Beast
“I Can’t stop thinking about it… I’m like a hamster in a wheel… My body feels electric.” Anxiety (defined as worry, undefined fear, and agitation) manifests itself in many forms, but an underlying theme with anxiety is that it is hard to shut off–like it has an untamed life of its own!
Anxiety impacts our lives in three primary ways
1. Our emotions (primarily fear and worry)
2. Our mind (the “mental grinding”)
3. Our body (increased breathing, quickened pulse, stomach churning, muscles tightening, etc.)
Likewise, coping with anxiety often involves addressing each of these three aspects of our lives.
Coping with Your Emotions
As emotions are hard to change, the approach to “tame” anxiety is by redirecting and reprograming both the body and the mind through interruption and distraction. These include:
- Deep breathing
- Deep breathing brings in a flood of oxygen into the brain and helps your body to read “Everything is OK” rather than shallow breathing that the body reads “Warning! Go into panic mode.”
- How to: Breathing in deeply and slowly through the nose, hold and out through the mouth. Imagine the breath coming up from your feet, all the way up to your head and back down.
- Every other
- Alternating body movement (left then right) stimulates opposite sides of your brain which disrupts the circular anxiety process.
- How to: Slowly tapping a hand, finger or foot, or circle your fingers on your thigh
- Turning over a pen or paper clip in your hand, doodling, squeezing a squishy object-all serve to distract the brain and refocus energy from your anxiety cycle into the object.
Diverting Your Thought Processes
- Peaceful scene–Imagine a restful scene that promotes a sense of calm. Practice going there in your mind while noticing your physical sensations. You can use music or a picture to help stimulate your memory.
- Two screens–Imagine two flat screen TVs in your mind. One is your “anxiety screen”- turn down the volume and move to the back of your mind. The other is a peaceful, “life as the way I would like it”, screen that you move to the front of your mind and turn up volume.
- Thought log–Divide a sheet of paper in half lengthwise. On the left side, write your anxious and fearful thoughts. On the right side, write “evidence to the contrary” statements of what else is possible besides your anxious thought.
Calming Your Body
- Mindfulness and relaxation–Find a program (online, an app, or visit your local library) you can listen to that brings you to a relaxed or mindful state (being present in here and now instead of the past or future.) There are many apps and programs to help you alleviate anxiety symptoms. Popular ones are Calm, 1 Giant Mind or Headspace. Yoga has also helped many to achieve a sense of greater peace.
- Medication–At times, a medication is needed to calm the overactive part of the brain if the anxiety effects sleep, well-being and daily living. A counselor can help assess the level of your anxiety, and refer you to an appropriate prescriber if the anxiety is severe enough or is accompanied with panic attacks.
A professionally trained therapist with experience in dealing with anxiety and panic attacks can help you understand your triggers and teach you new ways to cope if the anxiety level or panic attacks increase. With these easy tools, you can begin to gain a sense of calm in daily life.
Sheri Bland, MSW, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 30 years of in depth counseling experience with adults, older teens, couples and families. She is passionate about helping people realize their current obstacles and pains, and then equipping them with insight and new ways of thinking to overcome them. Sheri offers practical tools for change that quickly bring the individual to thrive and enjoy life again. Her specialties include regulating mood disorders, navigating relationship issues, and successfully handling the stress of life changes.