Anxiety is the most unwelcome guest and it may feel like you will never be able to kick it to the curb! It is bossy and intrusive… and you can help yourself to tame the anxiety beast.
If anxiety has taken up residence in your life, you may feel like:
- You are the only one who really cares about things
- You often anticipate that something can and will go wrong
- You are disappointed in others
- You are frustrated with yourself
- You have random thoughts that popcorn in your head
- You toss and turn in bed each night
- You bounce from one thing to the next
- You think there is not enough time
- You worry about physical symptoms (heart pain, heart racing, dizziness, etc…)
Anxiety may also make you feel like you are alone and that no one else understands you. According to the National Institute of Mental Health “an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.”
You are definitely NOT alone in your anxiety, although your anxiety brain is telling you otherwise.
The reality is that every person on the planet experiences anxiety at some point in life. Anxiety is a normal and natural emotion. Anxiety can help you recognize a dangerous or unfamiliar situation and it can help you to be safe.
How do you know if your experience with anxiety is outside of the norm? How do you know if you may need some support to navigate the twists and turns of anxiety in your life?
If your feelings of anxiety impact your day to day, you may want to seek support.
So, what can you do if you have decided that you would like help with the annoying guest that is anxiety? What’s next?
Reach out to a professional
The first step to navigating life with anxiety is to reach out to a professional about your experiences and symptoms. This professional can be your primary physician, a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. You will want to rule out any physical illness.
There is no blood work or lab test to diagnose anxiety disorder. You and your chosen mental health professional and/or doctor will explore your anxiety experience and symptoms to guide you in finding the best support for you.
Decide on what your support looks like for you
Anxiety is often treated with medication. Medication will not eliminate anxiety, however it will help reduce the symptoms. You will want to work with your prescribing doctor to monitor and explore your prescription options and treatment.
Many people with anxiety also start therapy. In working regularly with a therapist, you can explore how anxiety impacts you and look at coping strategies. It may be helpful to learn what precedes your anxious thoughts. Getting to know more about how you experience anxiety is often the first step to gaining control in your life.
Let’s talk about strategies to help you with your anxiety unwelcome roommate:
Challenge your self talk – The reality is that our brains can lie to us! It is so unfair! Here are three steps to challenge and change the voice in your anxiety brain:
Recognize that the negative thought is false
This is an important step to taming your anxiety. Your anxiety can intensify negative feelings and make you feel like things are worse than they truly are. By identifying the false thought, you are taking the first step to gaining power over your anxiety.
Challenge the anxiety lies
Taking the time to evaluate your negative thoughts and their origins is a vital step to managing anxiety. Examine the thought and the validity of it. Has that negative thought actually ever been true and how often? Identify the evidence that disproves your negative self talk.
Change the thought
Identify the evidence and explore the truths as opposed to investing in the lies of anxiety. Start telling yourself these truths more often. For example, you can tell yourself that you are prepared or that others have told you that you are doing a good job, etc…
Practicing mindfulness is something that you can do on your own. Mindfulness is “practicing the art of creating space for ourselves—space to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions” according to Mindful.org. It involves being intentional in your thought and aware of when your mind wanders and keeps you away from the present.
Oftentimes, your anxious mind will meander to the past or to the future. You can easily stay on that hamster wheel of worry and it may feel like there is no exit. In using mindfulness strategies, you can jump off the wheel and intentionally land in the present. Practicing this often helps create a new habit and reduces the space for anxiety to reside.
Anxiety can certainly make you question and worry about your physical health. Making some changes to improve your lifestyle choices can make a positive impact in living with anxiety. There are three areas to look at when you look to move to a healthier lifestyle: nutrition, sleep, and exercise!
Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet that includes protein, hydration, and fruits and veggies is a great start. It is also a good idea to limit caffeine and alcohol. Both of these will impact your sleep as well as increase edgy feelings — which is what you want to reduce, right?!?
In addition to a balanced diet, a good night’s sleep can positively impact anxiety. Of course, while sleep is needed .. it is also elusive when struggling with anxiety! Take a moment to look at your routines when it comes to sleep. If you don’t have a routine, then maybe start one:
- Go to bed at the same time each and every day
- Wake up at the same time each and every day
- Eliminate using your phone and/or TV at least 30 minutes prior bedtime
- Avoid/limit alcohol and caffeine
- Take a hot shower/bath or wash your face with warm water
- Practice positive affirmations at bedtime
- Schedule an appointment for worried thoughts for the next day
(knowing you will worry about it later can help you focus on getting to sleep now)
- Engage in relaxation strategies prior to bedtime
The final part of the healthy lifestyle trifecta is exercise! According to the Mayo Clinic, “regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety”. Engaging in a regular exercise routine can help release natural endorphins which can help to elevate your mood. It also allows you the space to think about something else outside of your anxiety. Luckily, you do not have to run a marathon to get the benefits! Basically, it can be as simple as finding ways to increase your physical activity (take the stairs, walking more often, etc..).
When you start to “move it, move it” your anxiety will move on out!
There are lots of conversations, podcasts, articles, social media posts, etc.. about self care. Heck, we even have a blog about it here! In the midst of experiencing anxiety it can seem impossible to engage in self care. Self care can be as simple as reading a book, watching a tv show, or taking a nap. Hanging out with friends and talking with pals in your support circle are also beneficial in self care and anxiety. By prioritizing your well being with self care, you can reduce the power that anxiety can have in your life. Make yourself a priority! You are worth it!
What I Tell Myself:
Anxiety is REAL! Anxiety is UNWELCOME! Anxiety is POWERFUL!
You are REAL! You are WELCOME! You are POWERFUL!
Living with anxiety can be challenging and learning to reduce the impact of your anxious brain is hard. Take it minute by minute and give yourself grace and space with your anxiety.
Try some of these ideas and remember that it takes time to feel and see the changes for yourself. You are learning new strategies and habits, so it may feel awkward. Your brain will want to default to anxiety in these awkward and unsure moments with your new skills. With intentionality and the commitment to manage your anxiety, you will get there.
About the Author- Kathy Davis, LCSW