The Truth About Anxiety and How to Manage it
Updated: Aug 2, 2022
What is anxiety? Anxiety is the body’s warning system, and it’s a physiological and psychological warning that something is wrong. The body has identified a danger and it’s screaming at you to listen. The problem is sometimes the warning system is faulty. It goes off when there’s not really any danger, kinda like a fire alarm with a low battery. It’s up to us to learn to recognize real dangers from imaginary ones and mitigate our body’s anxiety responses.
Anxiety is all about the future and at its core, it’s about control. People who have anxiety often say things like, “I feel like I have no control in my life.” “If I don’t do this thing, everything is going to fall apart." “If I could just do this better, or make sure this happens, everything will be okay.” Anxiety is about trying to control your environment but the irony is that when you have anxiety, you have ZERO control. It controls you. You actually take back control when you re-center yourself and stop worrying about things that you can’t change (more on that later).
What does anxiety look like?
This varies from person to person, but there are usually similar characteristics. For some people, anxiety looks like a panic attack. Your heart is racing, your chest feels like there’s an elephant on it and you can’t breath, and it feels like the walls are closing in. Everything inside of you is screaming to run, fight, or freeze. For others, anxiety is like a dull ache- you feel it all the time- a little uneasy, unsteady, nervousness. You just can’t shake it. And anxiety can be anywhere in between. So How do we Deal with It?
There are a lot of answers to this question. There’s literally hundreds of coping skills and techniques you can use to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Which ones you use is dependent on what works for you and your particular variation of anxiety. I’m going to outline a few common and effective techniques for different manifestations of anxiety. Panic Attack
The goal of effective coping for panic attacks is to stop the attack. There are two techniques I teach my clients that are successful in stopping the anxiety attack. Ice or ice water splash
Grab an ice cube, or some frozen veggies out of the freezer and hold them in your hand. You can place them on your wrist or just melt it in your hand. Or get a big bowl of ice cold water and put your face in the bowl for a few seconds. The ice “snaps” your brain out of fight-or-flight because your brain, as powerful as it is, can’t panic and try to figure out why it’s freezing to death at the same time. The ice produces a physical sensation of cold, which sends signals to the brain that there’s a problem with the body. The brain then sends all of its’ resources to the site of the problem (in this case, the hand holding the ice) and it no longer can focus on being in a panic state. Your heart rate lowers, your breathing returns to normal, and the “warning bells” in your head stop. 54321
Another technique that works is a grounding technique called 54321. There are a number of variations of this technique but the premise is the same. Look around and identify 5 objects in front of you. What color are they? Shape? Size? Take a moment to really focus on them. Next, identify 4 things you can feel: hold them in your hand. Are they soft? Warm? Cold? Next, can you identify 3 smells? Maybe you just had breakfast and the smell of bacon lingers in the air. Or your perfume. Next, listen. What do you hear? Identify 2 different sounds. Are they pleasant? Loud? And finally, take a really deep big breath, exhaling the negative energy out. This technique works because it centers you in the present. By identifying things around you, things that are tangible and real, it snaps your brain out of the futuristic thinking of anxiety and instead helps you to regain focus and control in the here-and-now. Constant State of Anxiety
So what if you don’t have panic attacks? But you constantly feel that underlying unease. It’s always there, in the back of your mind, and you just feel unsteady. Well, there are some techniques that can help with this as well.
Rubber balls vs Glass balls People with anxiety believe everything in their head is an instant emergency, a glass ball, and if it’s dropped it will shatter. But that’s not typically the case. Most of the stuff going on in our heads are rubber balls, and if they drop, they will bounce. But if you have anxiety, recognizing the difference can be a game changer for managing those thoughts.
So the first tip is to take a deep breath and use your logical-thinking skills to identify what is a glass ball and what’s a rubber ball. Example: If you fall out of a tree and break your arm, that’s a glass ball. Get to the ER now!
“I’m going to a baby shower next month. I picked out my dress but I know everyone is going to hate it and I’m going to ruin the party for my sister.” Rubber ball. First, the party is a month away. Why are you worrying about it now? Secondly, there’s a lot going on at a baby shower, and whether your sister likes or doesn’t like your dress probably isn’t even going to be in the top 10 of what’s going on in her head at the party, so there’s no reason to be focusing on this aspect right now. Which leads me to my next, and probably most important, tip.
Picking apart your own logic
When I’m working with a client one of my favorite questions to ask is, “Why?” “Why does that make sense?” “Why do you tell yourself that’s true?” Learning to use logical thinking, and reason, can go a long ways in helping to alleviate anxiety. You’ve told yourself that if they don’t cut down that tree in the backyard your kid is going to climb it and fall and die. But is that rational? Is it the most likely outcome? Kids climb trees all the time. I bet you climbed a few in your day? Did you fall? Did you die? Did you break a bone? Did breaking a bone ruin your life? It’s illogical to assume the worst thing is absolutely going to happen, and it’s also illogical, and presumptuous, to assume what affect it’s going to have on you or other people involved. So instead, recognize the factual, logical truth. Kids climb trees. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t. Most don’t die. Most don’t even break bones. So, IF your kid climbs the tree, and IF your kid falls, they probably won’t die, they probably won’t break a bone. So why allow this to be a glass ball in your head?
Anxiety is a reality for many of us but it doesn’t have to encompass our lives. If you’re struggling with anxiety the BEST way to manage it is to seek help. Therapy is a fantastic tool to help you learn to manage the symptoms, uncover the underlying issues, and develop coping skills and techniques to help you live a fully functional life. If you’d like more information, or feel ready to take that step, please contact me for a free consultation.