5 ideas for coping with anxiety - part 1
Sometimes anxiety is like a constant unease and disturbance that follows us around, whatever might be happening in our lives - good or bad. At other times it can strike when we're faced with unexpected situations such as - financial, health or relationship difficulties. Anxiety is a natural reaction to perceived danger, which can quickly become a problem when it grows into a state of mind that dis-empowers us and leaves us feeling vulnerable and helpless. Below are a few ideas that may help you reclaim your power during some of those challenging times.
1. Give yourself permission -
Whatever you are currently anxious about, give yourself full permission to be anxious. Say to yourself "It's OK - you're feeling anxious - you're allowed to be anxious - you're allowed to feel scared - it's OK." Then notice your thoughts telling you that it's not OK to be anxious and that this needs to change and quickly as possible!
Saying it's OK to be anxious does not mean that there is no action to be taken but, like a loving parent, you allow that scared child to feel anxious, and then with kindness you explore what needs to happen next in order to improve the situation.
Next, become aware of other areas in your life where you don't give yourself permission, such as - wanting to say something, not wanting to say something, wanting to do something, not wanting to do something. Whatever it might be - notice how often you don't allow yourself to say or do whatever it is you would like. Then, unless you are harming yourself or someone else, give yourself complete permission to go ahead.
2. Unplug from the past and the future -
Observe how often your mind travels - either into the past or forward into the future. If it's plugged into the past you may find yourself reliving situations and then struggling with guilt, regret or anger. If it's flown into the future then you may be imagining scenarios yet to happen, perhaps in order to prepare yourself, and as such experiencing fear, worry and stress.
Simply noticing this can be enough. When you observe your mind doing this just unplug and come back into the present moment, which is actually the only moment that ever really exists.
There are a number of ways to know you are in the present moment. One is to say to yourself, "I am here and this is now!" Or to feel your feet on the floor, to become completely aware of your body sensations and of your breath as it passes into your body and as it passes out. Notice how long you can hold this awareness before the mind flies off again.
Meditation can be a great tool for creating an awareness of our time travelling minds and how to come back into the present moment. Meditation also teaches us to act rather than react. For example; if I run out of money - reacting might sound like - "What the hell am I going to do?!! I'm not going to survive!!" Whereas acting could be - "Right, what do I need to do and what are my options? Let me try."
Similarly, if you find you mind obsessively going over and over something without an awareness of past or future - again, unplug and try to come back to the here and now.
3. Create an anxiety toolbox -
Getting curious about your experience of anxiety and moving towards it rather than running away from it is a step in the right direction. From there, exploring what tools and techniques are available to best suit you and your needs creates a resource - accessible at any time. Examples of possible tools include - imagining what your ideal self would do in any particular situation, body related techniques that help calm your mind and body and methods that helps transform negative thought patterns. Once you've created your personal tool box it's yours for life to be added to and adapted as you go.
Here are a few more suggestions -
EFT is a technique in which tapping on particular meridian points can shift energy and is particularly useful for anxiety. Tapping just below the collar bone can be used in the moment when anxiety level might be very high.
The work of Byron Katie is a very useful approach in challenging stressful beliefs. It is a very cognitive method which quickly unravels thoughts and believes that may be keeping us stuck. There are plenty of examples on YouTube where you can see her taking individuals through the process.
Meditation enables a way of stepping out of anxiety, not identifying with it, creating stillness and learning to better accept and tolerate challenging situations.
4. Understand the nature of change -
When we are in the mists of anxiety we can get so lost that we think things are never going to change. This way of thinking can actually perpetuate the situation. However, we often do come out the other end, look back and wonder why we wasted so much energy. Whilst some anxious states can feel eternal, particularly if it comes with added challenges such as insomnia, it is actually always changing and shifting. It may seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel at times but keeping in mind - "this will also change". Next, is learning to trust that universal law of nature is as true for our experiences of anxiety as it is for nature and the entire universe.
It is also sometimes useful to ask ourselves - "How attached am I to this anxiety? How much is this anxiety a vital part of my identity? Do I really want it to change? Who would I be without it?"
5. Trust in / and remember your innate goodness -
Often at the heart of anxiety are a series of deeply held beliefs, such as -
"I am not going to survive!"
"I'm not loveable or likeable!"
"There's something wrong with me!"
"I need to be perfect!"
"I mustn't fail!"
"I'm not good enough!" etc.
All of these beliefs take us away from who we really are. When we believe these kinds of thoughts - why wouldn't we feel anxious? Why wouldn't we find ourselves in a place where we need others approval in order to feel ok? Or why wouldn't we withdraw from our lives in order to protect ourselves? Why would we trust others when we believe the world to be unsafe and we don't even trust ourselves? When we believe these thoughts, why wouldn't we beat ourselves up and then feel hopeless and depressed?
Acknowledging your innate goodness does not mean becoming arrogant or selfish. Quite the opposite. It engenders self-acceptance and a relaxing into trust. From this place of self confidence we can be open and generous to ourselves, to the world and those around us. We must learn to accept ourselves first - warts and all before we can fully accept the world around us.
Next time you're in the grip of anxiety try saying to yourself, "Despite these feelings of anxiety and the beliefs that come with them I know that I am a good person. Whilst I might feel bad about these feelings this is not who I really am." Even if you don't believe it - it's another useful tool that, at the end of the day and beyond the anxiety and confusion, is absolutely true.
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About Neil Turner
As a Integrative Psychotherapist I offer therapy for individuals and couples and specialise in - anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-doubt, stress, building self-confidence, relationships and sexuality. I have over 10 years experience and a masters degree in Psychotherapy. I am also an Artist and before training as a therapist I worked as a Designer.
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