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8 Phrases That Ease My Anxiety

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Shallow breathing, racing heart, fidgety hands — sound familiar? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. That means 40 million adults and 25.1 percent of teens have directly experienced the impact of this disorder. For me, the odds have definitely not been in my favor. Generalized anxiety disorder is an old “frenemy” (along with a couple of other buddies that won’t be featured in this article) and one I’ve spent years learning how to handle. Along my journey, I’ve found a few pieces of advice that stuck and continue to provide relief and direction in my daily life. While these phrases help me, they certainly aren’t a panacea. If these tips don’t work for you, that doesn’t make you a failure — it just means you’ve learned some things that don’t work for you and you can move on to find the things that do.

1. Breathe.

OK, so you probably already knew this one, but it’s truly a stress-busting superpower that we all have. Slow and deep breathing is a universal calming technique and it works. The more you practice, the easier and more effective it is.

2. Schedule time to worry about it.

One of my best friends told me this and it sounded silly at first. Anxiety isn’t something you can schedule?! And that’s true, the power of a planner only goes so far. But, you can mindfully set aside time for yourself to think through the things you are anxious about. Knowing I would have designated time to sort through the muffled cacophony in my brain helped me compartmentalize and get through the day. This, admittedly, doesn’t work with all of my anxious thoughts, but it does help when there is a specific situation or event that I am worried about.

3. Treat yourself like you would a friend.

Self-compassion is something I am working on embracing. As difficult as it can be, I sincerely believe in the power of being kind to ourselves. When I notice I’m engaging in especially negative self-talk, I pretend like I am talking with a close friend. By stepping back and re-framing my thinking, I can see I deserve kindness and compassion from myself.

4. Right now you are safe.

In order to keep us safe from potential dangers, our body has a built-in alarm system that encourages us to react to threats and causes temporary anxiety. Anxiety disorders happen when a malfunctioning fight-or-flight response reacts to imaginary hazards. When the alarm bells feel more like Defcon 1, I take a moment to logically point out that I am not in any real danger. I describe my environment objectively and slowly repeat to myself that I am, in fact, safe.

5. This will make a good memory.

I tend to contemplate how my present decisions will shape my future. Sometimes, that kind of prospective thinking exacerbates my anxiety, but it can also be used as a force for good. There are many reasons why events and social engagements are challenging for me and I have a tendency to avoid them. But refraining from these occasions can leave you feeling dull, disconnected and devoid of happy memories. When something really matters and it is safe for me to attend, this thought is usually the last little push I need to get through my anxiety and actually show up.

7. I have permission to focus on something else.

When I’ve been rehashing a thought for hours, I eventually realize I’m wasting my energy and it’s time to move on. Easier said than done, right? Usually, the kick-start I need is a little logical redirect. [Insert obsession here] is not happening right now. There is nothing more I can do in the present. I have permission to focus on something else. As long as I really have done all that I can, and with some patience and gentle repetition, I can distract myself with something healthier.

8. Plan for the worst.

Maybe it’s because I work with kids, but answering a seemingly endless stream of questions has become a force of habit. When anxiety plants me with horrendous imagined possibilities, I force myself to answer the “what ifs” and “hows” that are plaguing my mind. When I finally make it to that work party, I feel more composed knowing that I have a plan just in case a coworker collapses from sudden cardiac arrest or the building bursts into flames. It may seem extreme, but being prepared for the worst helps me let go of all the questions and enjoy a pleasantly uneventful evening.

If you suspect that you are battling an anxiety disorder, I strongly encourage you to seek out help. It’s estimated that only 36.9 percent of adults with an anxiety disorder are receiving care despite it being a manageable mental illness. If you are already being treated, I wish you continued courage and resilience.

This article was originally published on The Odyssey.

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Unsplash image via Cristian Newman

Originally published: June 29, 2018
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