If you read my last anxiety blog then you have a good baseline for managing and eliminating anxiety. Today I want to expand on those ideas and dig a little deeper to help you understand anxiety and how to manage/eliminate it. In my last blog, I introduced the concepts of proactive and reactive coping skills. Reactive skills are those that can be used in the moment to stop the anxiety once it’s happened (using ice/cold splash, etc). Proactive skills are those that happen before the anxiety even strikes, or when it’s low-level. Some of the ones I specifically mentioned include picking apart your own logic and asking yourself, “Why?” While reactive skills are great, and absolutely have their place in managing anxiety, they aren’t great at mitigating it from the beginning. Reactive skills are more “in the moment.” When working with a client, I take a lot of time teaching them how to incorporate the thinking and behavioral skills to, hopefully, interrupt the anxious mind and keep it from happening at all. This, in my opinion, is the most useful skill for clients to have because eliminating the anxiety, at least in part, is typically the main goal.
Logical Thinking Skills
An effective tool is to tap into your logical brain. I teach clients the brain comes in two forms- the logical brain and the emotional brain. Anxiety stems from the emotional brain; fear of an outcome, loss of control, worrisome thoughts/inability to think clearly. Those with anxiety struggle to tap into the logical brain to really pick apart the truths they are telling themselves. One activity is to ask yourself, “If I had a friend going through this same thing, and saying the words that I tell myself, what would my response be?” In other words, when you take a step back and apply it to someone else, does it still make sense or do you rethink your response/reaction? Most of the time, clients tell me if they were talking to a friend in this situation they’d tell them, “You’re just being crazy.” “That doesn’t make sense.” Utilize that same rational, logical thinking and apply it to yourself.
Fake it 'Til You Make It
One of my favorite, and most effective, techniques to use with clients is the idea of faking it until they make it. I will encourage them to explore what the healthy, happy, stable version of them would do/say/think in that same situation, and then apply that in real life. Example: You bought a new dress that you love but you refuse to wear it to the party because you’re afraid nobody else will like it and it will ruin your night. What wou
ld the healthy, confident version of you do? “She’d wear the dress.” Okay then- that’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to act like the healthy version of yourself, and what happens is eventually, with consistent practice, you stop “faking it til you make it” and you actually become that confident version. Repeating a behavior, or thought process, creates consistency and changes the way your brain processes information. So, if you wear the dress, over and over again, eventually you become confident in wearing the dress and don’t give it a second thought.
Recognizing Pieces of the Puzzle
I could go on a tangent with this one, but anxiety plays into a lot of other subconscious things going on inside of us. It’s important to recognize where the anxiety is actually coming from, and what other maladaptive things it’s attaching itself to. It’s not unusual for clients with persistent anxiety to disclose struggles in relationships, constantly seeking approval/validation from others, never having been given tasks or allowed to make their own decisions as children or learned behaviors from parents/upbringing. Recognizing “how you got this way” goes a long way in helping overcome the anxiety. It’s important to talk about the past, in this context, and understand all of the ways the anxiety impacts you. Did you have a mother who wouldn’t let you drive at night and now as an adult you’re scared of driving in the dark? Did you ever get to be involved in family decisions such as where to eat, what movie to see or which game to play? Did you get criticized or overlooked for the decisions/suggestions you made? All of these things attach themselves to your inner psyche and help the anxiety infiltrate your behaviors, thoughts and beliefs about yourself. By processing through and really understanding how these things have affected you, you can begin the healing process. Below are some common themes or things clients have disclosed to me that helps to understand where anxiety is coming from. - “I wasn’t allowed to pick out my own clothes because my mom didn’t want me dressing like a slut.” - “My husband always asks me where I want to go for dinner but when I make a suggestion he says he doesn’t want that and we end up going where he wants to go.” - I’ve always asked my dad’s opinion on everything. I don’t feel I can really make a good decision without getting his input.”
- “I’m always afraid I’m going to look stupid so I always ask my friends how I look.”
-“I wanted to take French class but my parents said Spanish was a better language to learn.”
Do any of these sound familiar? Oftentimes, we become so accustomed to needing validation, or seeking approval, or not trusting our own decision making process, that we struggle with everyday life. This manifests as anxiety; anxiety over making the wrong decision, doing the wrong thing, something bad happening. Again, the anxiety feeds on these things and it becomes a cycle. By recognizing and understanding how these pieces fit together we can then begin the healing process.
If you struggle with anxiety, or recognize a need for more in-depth work, please reach out and