I recently said to my husband, “I don’t think I’ve felt this anxious in a long time.”
My husband looked at me and said, “What makes you feel better?”
“Let me remember,” I said, because anxiety can make you forget the basics of what you know.
I’m a therapist who works with people dealing with anxiety. Years ago, a therapist changed my life when I was struggling with anxiety myself. Here is what I know: my therapist didn’t change my life in one session. What he did was give me insight that I was able to put into practice.
I choose on a daily basis how to interact with my anxiety. The best tools for dealing with anxiety need to involve insight (understanding why you’re anxious) and practice (choosing how to interact with anxiety). Here are some everyday, practical tools for dealing with anxiety:
Name it to tame it.
A common psychology practice popularized by Dr. Dan Siegel, “name it to tame it” requires you to understand the message underneath the anxiety in order to combat it. This is key to gaining insight. Are you worried you’ll disappoint someone or that you’ll be rejected? Are you worried about getting sick? Name the fear and the underlying “worry story” you’re believing.
Don’t worry alone.
A hallmark indicator that you’re anxious is that you begin to lose perspective. Hashing it out with someone else will help you to understand the message beneath your anxiety. This can be as simple as a phone call to a trusted friend or a call to your therapist. If neither of these are an immediate option, then journal it out. Write until you get a little clarity.
My favorite definition of anxiety is by author and therapist Sissy Goff, who said, “Anxiety is an overestimation of the problem and an underestimation of yourself.”
The subtext with anxiety is usually, “I can’t handle it if it happens.” Remind yourself that you can handle hard things. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but try to remember the hard things you’ve made it through before. You can handle it. You can make it through.
Remind yourself that you can handle hard things.
Test the reality of your anxious thoughts.
Anxiety tricks you because there is often one small kernel of plausible truth to snag your attention. Then, it snowballs. Tell the whole story of what you’re anxious about out loud, and compare it to reality. Sift through your thoughts. What’s based on observable reality? What isn’t?
Don’t fight it.
Try not to think about elephants right now. My guess is you just pictured an elephant, right? In the same way, trying not to be anxious doesn’t work. What you resist, persists.
What you resist, persists.
Anxiety can feel overwhelming, no doubt, but instead of pushing against it, try to acknowledge it and accept it. Accepting that you’re anxious allows you to move through it.
Think about it like clouds passing over your head. Don’t grab them and pull them down. Acknowledge them. Accept that you’re feeling anxious, and then, do the next thing you were going to do anyway.
Part of taking the power away from anxiety is to expect it. I tap on my watch and say, “Right on time,” when a predictable anxious thought arises. When you “make friends” with the anxious thoughts, they are less threatening, and ironically, the more you accept them, the less they will eventually come.
Understand your brain.
When you’re really anxious, you’re in the emotional part of your brain that triggers your fight/flight/freeze response. That response is an important survival instinct, but it’s not helpful when it’s triggered by anxiety.
When you’re sitting at home feeling anxious, reacting as if there was a threat when there’s not, is a sign that the survival instinct has been activated needlessly. Your brain thinks there’s a bear, but there’s no bear.
Return to your favorite things.
When you’re anxious, you forget the simple things you love—your favorite writer, speaker, book, quote, movies or recipes. Help your brain remember you’re safe by soothing yourself with safe, familiar things.
Exercise helps remove stress from your body. Any type of movement, big or small, can help.
I’ve been more anxious lately. Maybe you have been, too. When you’re anxious, you need to gain insight into the “worry story” that hooked you in. Hash it out with someone.
Practice dealing with anxiety. Don’t fight it. Expect and accept it. Wave hello to it. Soothe yourself with familiar things, and get active. Remember, you’re more capable than you’re likely giving yourself credit for.