Seven ways of managing unpleasant feelings without escaping the present
1. I feel, but I am not the feelings
Anxiety, anger, and other uncomfortable feelings can be tremendously uncomfortable. The bodily response is very similar to being chased by an angry lion. A very angry lion. Maybe even a horde of lions. But the feelings cannot harm you. This is the first point you need to tell yourself.
"I feel, but I am not the feelings."
2. Radical acceptance
Instead of giving into anxiety's urge to flee or fight, make a conscious effort to accept this temporary brain chemistry blip and begin observing. Notice how the anxiety behaves... does it increase in intensity as you begin observing it? Or does it decrease? Is it a tingling feeling or more like a big beat? Does it feel the same in your whole body or does your chest feel anxiety differently from your toes? Don't try to change the feeling. Radically accept the way it behaves.
3. Get moving
Go for a fast-paced walk. Or do some fast paced yoga poses. Or do 10 jumping jacks in a row. You get the message - move your physical body. Reducing the amount of adrenaline and burning it on exercise is one of the most effective ways of managing anxiety.
4. Move your focus of attention
Focus your attention on someone else. Try to see how you can be helpful to another person. Paying attention to what another person needs, rather than what your anxiety is saying that you need (fight, flight or freeze tends to be its message), is a useful way of reducing the sensations of anxiety. In fact, helping behaviours have shown to increase oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ hormone of the body counteracting the neurochemistry that anxiety creates.
5. Reconstruct your thoughts
Your anxiety is making you underestimate your ability to cope – thinking that you can’t cope is one of the symptoms! Ask yourself what the worst that could happen? And the best? Is there any other way of looking at the situation? Remind yourself what a friend would say to you if they were with you right now.
6. Tap into your inner researcher
Take a look at the evidence in your own history. Remind yourself that you’ve experienced similar things before and coped. Whilst experiencing anxiety, anger or other uncomfortable feelings we tend to discard evidence to the contrary. We truly believe that we cannot cope another second when, in fact, we have experienced similar feelings before - and survived.
7. Grounding yourself
Use the method of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
Think about 5 things you can see,
4 things you can hear,
3 things you can touch,
2 things you can smell
and take 1 deep, slow breath.
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About Emely Ostberg
Emely Ostberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych.)
in Private Practice
I am an accred. Psychotherapist who works out of my office on High Holborn by Chancery Lane where I see clients for issues ranging from Chronic Depression and Anxiety Disorders to Business Coaching and Dynamic Group Development.