Anxiety, the unhelpful voice within

Anxiety.  Even the word makes me cringe a little.  Anxiety is that voice in your head that tells you it is as bad as you feared, maybe even worse.  “Anxiety” is the set of signals your body sends: the increased heart rate, the difficulty breathing, the tense muscles, the stomachaches (and then your mind adding some tidbits of “reason” that suggest that this time it might be fatal).  And while it may be reasonable to feel anxious on occasion, my clients (ahem, see also: my family members) who experience Anxiety (big A), know how it feels, know Anxiety is unreasonable, and yet feel powerless to stop it.

Anxiety. If you are asking, “What’s the big deal?” then you have anxiety (little a).  If you know the dread, the panic, the inability to get your mind on anything else, then you know Anxiety (big A).  If you struggle with Anxiety, know that there are solutions.  (I believe at this juncture you are obligated to first say, “Yes, I know. I’ve tried all the strategies, and my body/mind still tells me to PANIC!”  After you get that out of your system, read on!)

Know yourself

To manage anxiety, you must first know yourself.

  • Does your biology increase the chances that you will experience anxiety? For some people, particularly those with a family history of Anxiety, your body may be sending out signals that are much too loud for the situation at hand.
    • My favorite example, my husband asks, “Want to eat out tonight?” (duh, and not cook?) & my body says “What, a change of plans? Panic!!  Wait, what was the question?”  Is it necessary for me panic?  Clearly not, but my body appears to prefer that as the first “coping strategy” (and more on that later).
  • Are you engaging in habits that might increase anxiety?
    • Ingesting caffeine or other stimulants would be a great example of ways we accidently increase anxiety.
    • Do any of your medications accidentally increase the symptoms that mimic anxiety (change in heart rate, breathing)?
    • Are you getting enough sleep?
    • Do you exercise? Have you been outside lately?
  • Monitor your self-talk. Would you ever talk to another person in the way that you speak to yourself?  If not, change your talk.  Speak kindly, with lots of support, and in the 3rd
    • Change “I’m an idiot, and I’m pretty sure my boss is aware of that, too” to “This is hard, but you can do it. Hang in there, and see if you can make one tiny bit of progress.”

Make a plan

Once you have your habits firmly evaluated (and re-evaluated, and color coded and tabbed out, if you have that flavor of Anxiety), then you can start to make a plan.

  • Try to lower your overall baseline of anxiety.
    • Get adequate exercise. Research says only 20 minutes of Cardio has a long lasting impact with respect to lessening anxiety.  (More is not necessarily better, for those of you ramping up!!)
    • Get adequate rest. Many people with anxiety struggle with sleep. Establish positive sleep habits to promote good sleep, and then if you get poor sleep, don’t perseverate on it, just move on!
    • Get adequate social time. Yep, quality social contact with friends and family is part of a healthy life.  Maybe you can spend time with friends while exercising?
    • Get adequate nutrition. Eat fruits and vegetables, skip the drive through, all those things you know to do, do it!
    • Chill! Meditate, practice yoga, walk in nature, schedule down time, read a book, knit, sand wooden blocks into toothpicks.  Chose several, and repeat.
    • Be healthy. Visit with your doc to make sure you are making healthy choices, and if you take meds, make sure they are the proper doses.  Bodies and life circumstances change, and so will your meds.  Don’t be shy, tell you doc all your symptoms.
  • When you see anxiety coming, make a plan. We all have these circumstances: we have to give a presentation, fly across the country, or host a dinner.  We all have our triggers, so know your triggers, acknowledge the stress and anxiety, and make a plan for coping well.
    • In a crisis, most of us first PANIC. Years ago I told my (then 1st grade) daughter that we seem to think panicking will help solve problems.  Instead, make a 5 point plan (look around, brainstorm solutions, ask for help, phone a friend, walk away), THEN make a decision to panic if you have exhausted all the other resources.  My child delightfully reported back, “Mom, I was about to panic, but then I did all the other steps, and I didn’t even NEED to panic this time!”
      • So, decide if you need to panic. If you must, you must, but it doesn’t really seem to solve the problem, does it?
    • If you see anxiety coming, make your plan in advance, and then follow it.
      • Extra sleep, exercise, nutrition, social time, or planning time.
      • Be kind to yourself. Use the gentle, encouraging voice you would use with a friend.
    • If this is a long term stressor (family member with a long illness), get extra support, share your experiences with others, find time for things that bring you meaning, and acknowledge the stress.
    • For some people, medication is part of the solution. For others, exercise, nutrition, and monitoring/changing self-talk will be sufficient.

Reach out

Managing Anxiety is a challenge.  You can do it.  Anxiety is a temporary (serious!) feeling, and feelings come and go.  Anxiety tends to be an over-reaction to a situation, and you can teach yourself to titrate your reaction to the situation at hand. I would be happy to help you manage your anxiety.  Contact me, and we’ll get your life on track!