First let's talk about what anxiety is! Anxiety is an emotion that you feel when you are worried about something. Anxiety can alter your thoughts and even make them unrealistic. Anxiety actually means distraction. Sounds so simple, right? Yet it is so complex to manage! Everyone has some form of anxiety and everyone's symptoms can be displayed in different ways. Your experience could include things like feeling restless or irritable, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain, muscle tightness, body aches, chest pain, trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, feeling exhausted after a full nights sleep, going out of your way to avoid certain situations, or intrusive thoughts (see my previous post about changing your thinking if this is your experience with anxiety).
Anxiety is actually a normal reaction to stress and in some situations it can be beneficial. We've all heard of "good stress" or "eustress" which is the kind that keeps us motivated and excited about specific tasks or life in general. I think that our brains are trained to automatically think of words such as stress, anxiety, etc. as negative things but it doesn't always have to be that way. Let's talk about how anxiety can be beneficial for you.
Anxiety can sometimes be a warning sign that you need to bring awareness to a specific situation and maybe make some changes. In this case, anxiety is your friend. It could be something like a bad situation at work that needs to be changed in some way. Anxiety is there to let you know that you might need to take a closer look at the situation you are in. Another benefit of anxiety is motivation. When you are worried about something such as planning an event, anxiety may actually be an incentive for you to be successful at planning that event. Lastly, anxiety could be your bodies way of realizing you need to quickly react to a situation. This is also known as the flight-or-fight response.
Now, let's talk about the steps to managing anxiety.
1. Being aware of your anxiety!
This might be the hardest step in managing your anxiety. It is not always easy to recognize that we are feeling off or having symptoms. This is because anxiety can creep up on us and at any given moment we go from relaxed to worked up without even knowing it. It is important to always be in control of yourself and aware that something has triggered your emotions to change whether it be within a few minutes or over a period of time. I know we all get so busy and most of us are on the go constantly but recognizing what is going on around you is important to managing anxiety. It's so easy to say "slow down" but it is not always easy to do. Try to focus your attention inwardly on yourself so that you may understand your own habits and emotions. In order to do this you can do things such as a self-reflection journal, write down your plans and priorities, perform daily self-reflection such as yoga or meditation (even if it is just 5 minutes, I know we are all so busy). Anxiety can often times make us think terrible things about the future. Living in the present moment and realizing you are thinking about things that haven't even happened yet and may never happen can really be beneficial. I think the most important part of this process is to be completely honest with yourself. Most of us don't want to admit our flaws, mistakes, regrets, struggles or weaknesses. Try having a conversation with yourself about these things so that you may develop a level of introspection. Knowing yourself in and out and being okay with your flaws is like a weight off your shoulders and a beautiful stress reliever.
If you are a religious person, like myself here is a pray for you:
Father, help me to become more aware of myself and things that I am feeling that may not be easy to manage. Help me to recognize when my body has become triggered and is displaying emotions that are uncomfortable. Bring awareness over me so that I may be clear minded to continue my day with you by my side. Help me to understand that I am beautifully and wonderfully created by your hands and help me to my flaws, struggles and weaknesses instead of hiding behind them. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
2. Strategies to try when you are feeling symptoms of anxiety!
Feeling the symptoms of anxiety can be so awful at times. Luckily, there are real things that we can do to relieve these symptoms. Think of it as medicine for your emotions. Like when we have a cough, we take cough syrup and go on with our day. Take a few minutes when you are feeling symptoms and try some different strategies until you are satisfied and able to go on with your day. I know what you're thinking because I'm actually thinking the same thing, "Who has the time to take to practice different strategies?" I was like this before I realized how important it was for me to actually try at managing my anxious emotions. I saw the benefits of taking a step back and giving myself medicine for my emotions rather quickly.
First, try taking a few deep breaths to reset. I know you've heard of this before but you may not have heard about why it is so beneficial. When you practice deep breathing, you are sending signals to your brain which then tell your body to calm down and relax. Here's how... your autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts. One part is the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of rest and relaxation. The other part is the sympathetic nervous system which is in charge of your flight-or-fight response. You CANNOT turn these on at the same time. By practicing deep breathing, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system while suppressing your sympathetic nervous system allowing your body rest and relaxation. Okay, biology lesson done!
Other strategies include giving yourself "worry time," challenging your self-talk, taking up habits such as journaling, coloring, exercising, yoga or meditation. Worry time sounds silly but here's how it works. Plan a time in your day when you allow yourself to think about something that is worrying you. Make it as short as possible about 10 minutes or so and be done with it. My "time to worry" is on my lunch break because I know it doesn't last long and I have to go back to work and think about other things. I set about 10 minutes to think about things that are bothering me. Once that 10 minutes is over, I go back to work and tell myself I am no longer allowed to think about those things. Challenging your self-talk means changing your thinking. Remind yourself that what you are thinking about likely has not even happened yet and the outcome might be different than what you are considering. Also, challenge yourself with some questions like "Is what I'm thinking the truth?" or "Is what I'm thinking realistic?" Taking up new habits can be challenging and time consuming but remember that anxiety typically doesn't go away on it's own accord. Over time it can become worse and even unmanageable. Taking the time to put your symptoms at rest is worth it in the long run.
If you are religious person like myself, here is a prayer that I say throughout my day and whenever I feel anxious:
Father, I bring this to you. I recognize that you are in control of my life and the events that occur in my life. In this moment, I give you all of my worries, fears and anxiety for you to have. I am grateful that you are willing to take all of these things in your hands so that I may not have to struggle with them any longer. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
3. Managing symptoms physically
When you're feeling anxious you may also feel depressed and unmotivated. Creating habits that make your body "feel" better are a good way to manage your symptoms and maintain your health. These things include eating a well balanced diet, drinking a lot of water, drinking less caffeinated products, slow down on the sweets, limit alcohol intake and exercising even if it's just taking a short walk daily. Once you start feeling better make sure to continue these habits. Remember also, it takes 2 weeks to develop new habits!
If you are a religious person, here is your pray:
Lord Jesus, please help me create a new healthy habit that I know will be good for my body. I know that you live within me and you want me to be healthy, mind, body and spirit. Please give me continual motivation to create something healthy in my life. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now, I want to be clear that anxiety is NOT always a good thing and cannot always be looked at as beneficial. If you are suffering from symptoms of anxiety so much that it starts to interfere with your daily life, it may be time to reach out for help which is OKAY! Reaching out for help from a therapist, psychiatrist, etc does not mean you are weak or unable to manage your emotions. Sometimes, we need the extra help to learn how our emotions work. I will be the first to admit that I was a patient of a therapist for a very long time! I know that the pandemic has also exasperated a lot of our anxious feelings so speaking with a therapist virtually and temporarily could be a great thing to do right now!
I have attached a worksheet here for you! The worksheet is designed to help you take a moment out of every day to gain some insight on your emotions, feelings and mood. It helps you learn more about yourself and what kind of events trigger your anxiety. The worksheet is part of your first step at managing your anxiety! Think about the events of the day and write down how the event changed your emotion, how intense the emotion was, what you're thoughts about the event were at that time and what your thoughts about the event are now. It is best if it is done at the end of the day. Please feel free to copy the worksheet and use it for as many weeks as you need to. If you have any trouble downloading the worksheet, let me know!
Anxiety is quite annoying, I know it is! I hate to admit that I suffer from anxiety more times throughout the week than I'd like. Of course we all want to go towards maladaptive coping mechanisms like drinking and other behaviors that are just not good for us. Always remember that these things only give you a temporary sense of relief and that your anxiety will be back. It does take work to manage but it is worth being able to relax knowing you have found something that will get you back on track. I hope that you find this information useful and take the time to take care of yourself!
Always remember that God is in control of your life, he will not leave you or forsake you and he has promised to be right by your side every step of the way!
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or practicing professional in mental health. I earned my M.A in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. I am currently a member of the peer support team for first responder's and those who work with first responder's. I enjoy studying mental health and I take trainings to further my education on current mental health issues.