3 Tools for Coping with Anxiety
We all experience anxiety at some point in our lives. Feelings of nervousness and worry are completely normal and real emotions that are part of the human experience. In fact, anxiety can even be thought of as a helpful emotion because it helps to protect us from potential threats by activating the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, which encourages our system to remain on high alert when danger is near.
Anxiety can also be situational. When we are stretched beyond our comfort zone (think public speaking or starting a new job) we may experience symptoms of anxiety, such as racing thoughts, a dry mouth and sweaty palms. All of us experience these types of feelings from time to time.
However, anxiety becomes problematic when it begins to interfere with our daily lives. If there is some type of functional impairment, such as feeling unable to eat, sleep or concentrate, or if our state of worry or panic is preventing us from enjoying our hobbies or relationships, that’s when it’s time to seek professional help.
According to a study conducted in 2018 by the American Psychiatric Association, almost 40% of Americans reported feeling more anxious than they felt during the previous year. Health, safety and finances were blamed for evoking the greatest amount of stress in those who were polled. For those of us who have been experiencing more stress and strain than usual, it’s safe to say we’re not alone!
So, how do we cope with normal amounts of anxiety or fear so that it doesn’t interfere with our daily lives? Here are my top three recommendations:
1. Ground and Calm the Nervous System. Activities such as meditation, QiGong and gentle yoga are known to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn slows heart rate, regulates blood pressure, and relaxes the body. These types of exercises are ideal for grounding, stabilizing and letting go because the mind is forced to focus on the breath, as well as sensations within the body.
2. Challenge Anxiety-Provoking Thoughts. When we are feeling anxious, we tend to think about the worst-case scenario, which then produces even more fear and anxiety. That’s why I suggest challenging negative thoughts with a mindfulness-based approach. For example, when I am engaging in a series of negative thoughts, I find that it’s helpful to stop and ask, “Where are these thoughts coming from?” This allows me to not only pinpoint the cause of my anxiety, but to sometimes even find creative solutions for curbing it. At the very least, identifying the cause of my anxiety helps me to recognize and eliminate the negative self-talk that only serves to exacerbate my anxiety.
3. Find a distraction. One way to cope with feelings of worry and unease is to find activities that distract us. This can be as simple as counting backwards from 100, or naming as many U.S. States as possible. For those of us who suffer from persistent anxiety, I recommend finding hobbies or activities in which we can engage at least once every day that allow us to take our mind away from our worries. Phoning a friend, reading a book, exercising or working on a crossword puzzle are all healthy distractions, and they give us something to look forward to throughout the day!
I hope you found these tools for coping with anxiety to be helpful. Please reach out to schedule a complimentary session with me if you’re needing some extra support.