Everyone, at some point in life, experiences anxiety to some degree. This is a built-in feature that makes us human, and over millennium has kept us safe. It is the intensity, frequency, and degree to which it interferes with one’s life that varies and differentiates “normal” anxiety with more problematic anxiety. It is not unusual to be anxious before a big exam, starting a new job, giving a presentation, meeting new people, taking a big trip, or milestone events such as weddings, births, or funerals. One also can experience some anxiety in other, milder situations. Different situations prompt different levels of anxiety for different people.
This is particularly a stressful time with a pandemic, work demands, rapid technological changes, accelerated pace of life, and climate change, just to name a few. Many people are feeling this in different ways physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. It is no wonder they are dealing with heightened anxiety. Anxiety can lead to insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability.
Signs of Anxiety
Some of the signs to watch for that might point to anxiety disorder include:
· Feeling restless, wound-up, on-edge, or irritable
· Being easily fatigued
· Having difficulty concentrating
· Experiencing headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or unexplained pain
· Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
· Having difficulty falling or staying asleep or other sleep problems
· Experiencing a racing heart
· Fearing losing control
Here are some ways to deal with anxiety, whether it be on the lower or higher end of the spectrum or somewhere in between.
Acknowledge the feeling
Before you can deal with anxiety, you need to acknowledge to yourself that you are experiencing it - that it is there. Many people think something is wrong if they feel anxious. Others might be afraid of the intensity with which anxiety can appear and may try to push it away or avoid it. While this might be the immediate inclination to feel relief, pushing it under usually results in it coming back, possibly stronger. The old saying, “What we resist persists” applies here.
Learn about anxiety
When you first experience anxiety, whether it is a brief wave of discomfort or a full-blown anxiety attack, it can be confusing, overwhelming, and isolating. It might even be downright frightening. You might feel like you are the only one who experiences this, or you might wonder if you’re losing your mind, especially if it feels like an out-of-body experience. Learning about what anxiety is, how it operates, and the physiological response takes away some of the power it has over you. Knowledge, itself, is power, and the more you understand anxiety, the more you can work with it. In fact, anxiety has served a purpose since early humans inhabited the earth, especially when being alerted to predators or other survival threats. While we are, for the most part, not facing the threat of tigers and lions and bears, we are still wired to produce adrenalin and feel heightened anxiety when facing situations that feel like threats, such as traffic jams, tight work deadlines, and the plethora of information, much of which is “bad” news.
Face the feeling
As uncomfortable as anxiety can feel, one way to deal with it is to face it head-on and go through it. One can go around it or bypass it for only so long, and then it catches up and can hit like an avalanche. Notice where you feel it in your body; notice the thoughts you are having; notice what emotions come up.
Get out your toolbox
There are a variety of tools you can use to deal with anxiety. One such evidence-based tool that is be effective for anxiety is mindfulness practice. The practice of mindfulness or mindfulness meditation is a practice of focusing the attention on the breath, on sounds, on physical sensations, and/or on thoughts. It is a practice of observing these without judgement or analysis. While this may sound simple, it does take practice – a practice that, over time, can quell anxiety. Further, it works by actually changing one’s relationship with anxiety.
Another way to deal with anxiety is to distract yourself by putting your attention away from the anxious feelings and toward something else, like taking a walk, reading, playing music. Sometimes it might be managed by simply taking a few slow, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Our breath is always with us; it is a powerful, readily available to manage anxiety. Furthermore, no one needs to know that you are dealing with anxiety while you are taking a few deep breaths.
Check in with yourself
Are you, in some way, not being true to yourself? Are you trying to be someone else? Are you living a life that is not aligned with your values? Am I comfortable in my own skin? These are questions you might ask yourself when you are feeling an underlying, persistent anxiety. It is natural that, if you are not living a life that aligns with your true self and your values, you would feel that something is not quite right, which can prompt a sense of anxiety. When you are doing something you love; when your whole self is engaged, there is less nagging uncertainty and doubt, and thus less anxiety.
Maybe there is an underlying reason for or learning from the anxiety that you are feeling. It can be helpful to separate the anxiety from yourself by personifying it or naming it and inviting it to sit with you, as you would a guest. In this way you can get a bit of distance from it and refrain from identifying with it. You can imagine it “sitting” across from you, as you have a conversation with it. Maybe let it know that you understand that it is perhaps trying to protect you in some way. Ask what it has to tell you. Give yourself time and space to “listen” to the answers. While this exercise requires some imagination, allow yourself to “play” and experiment with it. You might be surprised at how the anxiety changes or even subsides over time. It can change your relationship with anxiety from one of fear and overwhelm to one of curiosity and friendliness.
Record your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
Sometimes it is helpful to use a tool called a “thought record” to understand and change negative thoughts. You can track a particular situation, the negative thought you had about or during the situation, the feelings you experienced (both physical and emotional), and your resulting behaviors or actions. Next change the initial thought by thinking of an alternative thought. Notice how your feelings and actions may change when you consider the alternative thought. This tool is based on the idea that feelings and behaviors are (at least partly) the result of thoughts. Thought records are widely used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people become aware of their thoughts and change them.
Explore alternative treatment
There are numerous alternative treatments and practices that can be helpful for anxiety. One such effective treatment is emotional freedom technique (EFT), also known as “tapping.” While it is still being researched, it is based on the idea that disrupting energy in the body contributes to emotional and/or physical pain. EFT restores balance to the energy system, thus relieving symptoms caused by a negative experience or emotion. While acupuncture uses thin needles to balance energy points in the body, EFT uses fingertip tapping to apply pressure to these energy points, sending signals to the part of the brain that controls stress. For more information about EFT and other alternative treatments, consult appropriate practitioners.
Seek professional help
If anxiety becomes so overwhelming that you cannot deal with it, or if it starts taking over your life, talk with a professional about it. Don’t suffer in silence. You do not have to do this alone; there is plenty of support out there, so use it when you need to. Continually experiencing high degrees of anxiety could be an indication of something that needs attention, such as a health issue, and you should consult with your doctor.
Going forward with understanding of and tools to work with anxiety allows you to experience greater peace and live a life of joy and purpose.
Managing anxiety training
Learning about how to manage anxiety through training is another way you can work with it. The Karen Natasha Coaching training program offers workshops on tools and coping mechanisms. See https://www.karenatashacoaching.com/ for more details.
What to do TODAY?
Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people access awareness about themselves. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to any situation. We can help you gain a sense of peace through managing anxiety in productive, healthy ways. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.