If you or someone you love has struggled with Anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be. Anxiety can impact many areas of life – work, relationships, parenting – it can even seep into leisure time! In this article, I’d like to share some information about what Anxiety is, why we experience Anxiety, and how it can be managed effectively.
All people experience Anxiety at some point in their lives. In fact, Anxiety is an adaptive response we have inherited from our ancestors. We experience Anxiety when we perceive a threat in our environment. Imagine you are being chased through the woods by a bear. Anxiety is a natural response to this scenario, and it will likely prompt you to begin running away. Your fear of injury causes a survival instinct to kick in and protect you. In this situation, Anxiety is not only a normal response, but also a healthy one!
Anxiety becomes a concern when the perceived threat is greater than the actual threat. For example, if you are responding to a work presentation with the same level of Anxiety you would experience if a bear was chasing you, your Anxiety is likely higher than is warranted.
We typically become anxious when we are worried about the future, or when we are ruminating about past mistakes. “Am I going to do well on my presentation?” “Will I get the raise I’ve been asking for?” “What if I screw up?” Thinking about the future and worrying about the future are completely normal, but it can become exhausting when Anxiety takes over. In order to keep Anxiety at bay, I recommend trying the following interventions:
- Focus on what you can control. When we worry about the future, we often get caught up in “What if’s.” This is entirely normal, but it can also be very unhelpful. There is absolutely no way to prepare yourself for every “what if” scenario. Rather than doing this, focus on the aspects of the situation you can control. For example, if you have a big work presentation coming up, focus on the elements you can control, like preparation and practice. You can’t control whether people will like the presentation or not, so it is better to keep your focus on the parts you can control.
- Practice mindfulness. Anxiety is the antithesis to mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice of staying in the present moment. Anxiety occurs when we are focused on the future, or when we are ruminating about the past. Mindfulness is a practice in which you narrow your focus to the present moment, letting go of the next moment and leaving behind the last. One practice I love for encouraging mindfulness is called “5-4-3-2-1.” Using the 5 senses, you can fully engage with the present moment. Begin by identifying 5 things you can see in your environment. Then identify 4 things you can feel/touch. Then notice 3 sounds in your environment. Using your nostrils, try to take in 2 scents/smells. End the practice by noticing one thing you can taste. This practice will completely ground you in the present moment, thus calming your central nervous system.
- Closely examine your self-care routine. Anxiety is often at its worst when we are not taking good care of ourselves. Take a look at what you are doing to maintain a work/life balance. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising regularly? How’s your diet? How many hours are you in front of a screen? How much caffeine are you drinking? There are so many things we do each day without thinking twice. However, if you are struggling with Anxiety, it is important to make sure you are thoughtful about how you treat your body and your mind.
- Talk about your Anxiety. Talking about Anxiety can often be a relief in and of itself. When we keep our worries to ourselves, they can often grow and multiply. Talking about Anxiety with a supportive friend, family member, or therapist can help prevent worries from getting out of control. If you are the friend or family member of a loved one with Anxiety, encourage your loved one to speak about what they are dealing with. Avoid the tempting response, “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s not a big deal!” These sayings can be extremely invalidating and shaming for someone who is struggling with Anxiety. Simply listen and offer supportive statements, such as “I understand why you feel that way,” or “I’m here for you.”
Anxiety can be a frustrating and overwhelming experience, but it is also highly treatable. If your Anxiety is feeling unmanageable, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional to receive additional support and guidance.