4 Steps I Take to Cope With Anxiety
The discomfort and pain from anxiety is real, and it’s hard for those who have never experienced it to understand. It is not the same as having stress or being nervous about something. It is relentless; it feels like something awful is going to happen. So how do we cope with these feelings?
Having lived with anxiety for my entire life and having now made a career helping others, I will share with you some of the ways I cope with these terribly uncomfortable feelings.
1. Ask yourself what’s causing the feeling.
The way I talk to myself when I have these feelings is extremely important. I can either make them worse or bring them down to a more comfortable level with my self-talk. I can say, “Oh no, this is so awful, I cant do this, I cant cope with this, this is the worse thing ever,” and if I talk to myself that way, I’m guaranteed the feeling with either stay the same or get worse. On the other hand, I can say, “Oh, here are these uncomfortable anxiety feelings again. What’s going on today that has me feeling more anxious? What am I afraid of? What am I dreading?”
Sometimes I can get an answer and know exactly why I’m feeling that way. In that case, I go on to step two. But if I can’t find any reason for the feelings, I go on to step 3.
2. Challenge the thoughts.
If I can get in touch with the thoughts causing me anxiety, examine the evidence to see if these are true thoughts or, as the case almost always is with anxious thinking, irrational thoughts. For example: I’m feeling anxious because I have an exam today. I would ask myself: Are you prepared for the exam? Yes. Have you done well on your exams in the past? Yes, most of them, especially if I have studied. If for some unlikely chance, you do not do well on the exam, will it be the end of the world? No, it would not feel good, I would be disappointed, but it would not be the end of the world. Anxious thoughts are almost always irrational, and asking yourself these questions helps bring the logical part of the brain back into the game.
3. Relax the body.
So you’ve tried to figure out what your anxious thoughts are, and you come up with nothing. Everything seems OK, but you still have a body full of anxiety. In this case, your best defense might be relaxation. Deep breathing slows down the part of the brain that has you on anxious overdrive. It is actually the best way to reduce a panic attack. Deep, slow breathing means breathing from the belly — inhale, hold and slowly exhale.
I used to only do this when I was extremely anxious and then get so frustrated it was not working. I had to become consistent in practicing this every single day, even on days that were not as bad. Now when I do it, it really does help. Relaxation also can include massage, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery (using visualization to bring yourself to a calm, peaceful place), mindfulness (paying attention to your five senses) and walking in nature.
4. Practice self-compassion.
On days when you are feeling particularly anxious, the last thing you need is to criticize yourself for having these feelings. Have compassion with yourself. Remind yourself that having an anxiety disorder means we may feel more sensitive, tired, have more body pains and generally that we require sufficient downtime, safe connections with others and self-care. Treat yourself with tenderness and soothe yourself with a nice cup of calming tea. Have a nice warm bath in lavender. Write positive affirmations about yourself, things you are grateful for and nice things others have complimented you on in a journal. Remember to tell yourself that feelings are like waves — they come and go, they ebb and flow.
Andrea Addington, MSW, RSW specializes in anxiety counseling in Moncton, N.B. Her website is www.andreaaddington.com.
Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.