While anxiety can express itself in many ways, it most commonly feels like an overwhelming worry.
You might question whether something is truly wrong or you are misreading a situation.
It can be hard to sort out because you are wired to experience a certain level of anxiety no matter what. A low level of anxiety is a natural outcome of simply being alive and meeting the demands of everyday life. Our bodies gather strength and energy so that we can perform. On the other hand, anxiety is also designed to let you know when something is terribly wrong. In that case, anxiety involves your body in a more intense way—poising you for whatever action you need to take to ensure safety.
Yet, when the body and mind remain in this heightened state for longer than necessary, it can quickly become a habit. If left unchecked, anxiety can soon feel like it is taking over your life.
Examine these 7 steps to reclaim your life when anxiety is running the show. If you need further assistance, an anxiety counselor can assist you in unraveling the habitual patterns that underlie your anxiety.
1. Recognize and Acknowledge Anxiety Symptoms Without Resistance
If you ignore your anxiety symptoms, they can get worse and then, before you know it, you feel overwhelmed. It’s imperative to learn what symptoms your body expresses when low level anxiety is present. Then you can address the problem before it gets out of hand.
Take special note of your thoughts, body sensations, and triggers associated with lower levels of anxiety. Consider that anxiety is a kind of warning system with information content. It is up to you to learn what your anxiety is telling you so that you can do what is needed to put it in check. Do you need a break from what you are working on? Is there something going on in your life that needs to be addressed? These are the kinds of considerations to take when you are experiencing anxiety.
Learn to allow anxiety to be present without fighting the sensations. There is a saying that goes something like this, “What we resist persists.” I might add, “and it also becomes stronger.” The more you fight your anxiety the stronger it can become. Instead try to consider your anxiety your ally. It is telling you something.
2. Know and Respect Your Physical and Emotional Limits
Set boundaries with yourself and with other people.
Personal boundaries are important for your own mental health and physical safety. When experiencing anxiety, rely on these boundaries to limit the impact of overwhelming feelings. For example, if you need 8 hours of sleep, then honor that. If you have been working 12 hour days, then maybe it is time to let your boss know about her unrealistic deadline.
There is an art to boundary setting, and it is a lifelong skill. Practice boundary setting with people who are easy to work with and in easier situations so that you gain confidence.
3. Take Care of Yourself
While it seems fundamental, bodily care often gets overlooked. It’s important to practice proper self-care.
Remember to allow time for rest, rejuvenation, and good quality sleep. Eat right by avoiding sugar, processed foods and caffeine. These can stimulate the nervous system further. Alcohol and drugs can also negatively interfere with your sleep cycle and increase stress.
Give yourself time for enjoying the things you enjoy. Exercise can be a great way to reduce anxiety. Laughing, playing and otherwise having fun is a great way to increase good feelings and discharge tension.
4. Breathe Long Slow Easy Breaths
Your nervous system and stress response can be calmed down by deep breathing. Engage in conscious, deep and gentle breathing for about 1 minute at a time. This will help you reconnect with your senses and stay in the present moment.
An easy way to practice is by doing it 10-15 times per day every time you are waiting for something. For example, you can focus on easy beathing while you wait for the phone to ring or for the kettle to boil.
5. Seek Social Connection and Social Support
Being social might be the last thing you want to do when you are anxious, but it’s the best approach for you in terms of putting things into perspective.
Social support includes activities such as attending spiritual or religious events, volunteering or belonging to a support group. Social connection includes all the relationships you cultivate along the way. Good social connection is not something that can be cultivated overnight—so be patient. Try to develop friendships and support during a time you don’t need them to cope with your anxiety so that these resources are already in place when you do need them.
6. Identify the Source of Your Anxiety
Often, the source of your anxiety reminds you of something else in your life that was difficult. Ask yourself what do your anxious feelings remind you of.
Have you had an earlier experience that you are reliving in the current moment? Are your ethical principles or values being violated?
Gathering these facts can help you to problem-solve better to improve your situation.
7. Find a Way to Face What is Bothering You
Don’t avoid whatever it is that is bothering you. The more you avoid what is causing you anxiety, the worse the situation can get. There is a saying that goes something like this: What we resist, persists and, through being resisted, actually becomes stronger. If facing what is making you anxious feels impossible or counterproductive, then see a therapist that you trust.
A qualified anxiety counselor can help you address your anxiety and help you to be the one running the show—not your anxiety!
Check out my website for further information on anxiety problems. If you find you need counseling support, ask me how I might assist you in resolving your anxiety.
Terry Kerler, LPC
South 6th Avenue, Pocatello, ID 83201