3 Strategies To Beat Anxiety
Today we’re covering a big topic and that is anxiety.
When many of us think of anxiety, we might confuse it for fear, or worrying. So before we discuss anxiety and how to cope with it, let’s clarify what each of these are. Fear is an emotion that occurs in response to an immediate and real threat, whereas, anxiety is the excessive and repetitive worrying about a future perceived threat or danger that is real or imagined. This threat could be physical (i.e., being attacked by a bully or mugger); social (i.e., being mocked or embarrassed online or in person, having a date go wrong); or related to performance (i.e., failing a test or presentation).
Worrying in and of itself, is completely normal and is an adaptive emotion, as it helps us respond to threats and danger, and can help us prepare for tests and presentations. However, when we experience worry or anxiety, an alarm system in our body AKA the fight or flight system AKA the sympathetic nervous system – goes off, just like when we experience fear when real danger is detected. During this alarm, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, our muscles tense, pupils dilate, and we sweat. This occurs to help give us a surge of energy to fight or run away from the danger.
You can only imagine what toll this can have on our body when we stay in this state over time. And it can leave us feeling restless, uneasy, and irritable, as well as affect our overall health (i.e., abdominal pain, headaches, nausea, muscle tension, chronic pain, colds, poor memory, high blood pressure, premature aging, unwanted weight loss, among others), ability to fall and maintain sleep, as well as our relationships, work, and school. So now that we know what anxiety is and what happens to our body when we experience it, let’s talk about how to cope with it:
Strategies to Beat Anxiety
1. Be Aware. Learn what is contributing and maintaining the anxiety. -Keeping a log can help you track times and situations you experienced anxiety. Once you begin identifying specific scenarios, pay attention to the thoughts you had during these moments or triggers. If you remember from previous posts, thoughts impact our emotions and in turn impact our behaviors. This means thoughts are what is contributing to our overall anxiety. But more often than not, we experience anxious thoughts without even paying attention to them so it's very important to pay attention to them so we can begin combating our anxiety.
For instance, if you know you always become nervous (emotion) when you get in the car and have begun avoiding cars (behavior) as a result, keeping a log to learn what crosses your mind when you’re about to get in the car can lead to you identifying the culprit for your anxiety. This in turn, can lead to you feeling more comfortable in future scenarios.
2. Control or No Control. Once you know what is causing the anxiety. Ask yourself, “Do I have control over this or not?” This is so important because it will help guide you to the best coping skill.
If you have control: (typically about a current and real problem).
For example: “what if the disagreement I had with my friend means we won’t be friends again.”
Solution: Take action to resolve the problem. In this example, it’d be talk with your friend to resolve the conflict. Similarly, if you were worried about an upcoming test, you could study more, or if you were concerned about paying your bills, you could take an extra shift to be able to pay them. If you’re not sure how to solve the problem, engage in problem-solving to think of the best solutions.
If you don’t have control: (typically about something hypothetical)
For example: “what if the subway crashes to work?”
Solution: Partaking in relaxation or distraction strategies will be the best because you have no or little to no control.
-Relaxation strategies include deep breathing (belly breathing), progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing your muscles), and guided imagery (visualizing a peaceful scenery using your 5 senses).
-Distraction techniques include talking with a friend about something unrelated to what is making you anxious, reading a book, taking a warm bath, listening to music, playing a fun game, going for a walk, watching a favorite television show or movie.
3. Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the easier and more comfortable you will get at tolerating scenarios that make you anxious.
*If you’re having trouble with thought identification and with identifying what is triggering the anxiety, talking with a licensed psychologist that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy will help. They will also help you learn these strategies in depth.
As always, thank you for reading!
Disclaimer: Information being provided on this page is general in nature and is not intended to replace or serve as therapy. Should you be experiencing emotional distress or difficulties at school, work, or with relationships, it is encouraged that you contact your insurance health provider to locate a mental health professional in your area. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others at your nearest emergency room.