Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in America. Why? Because we have been taught to fear our fear. In our society, it is not okay to feel fear. We view being scared as a weakness and tend to talk ourselves, and others out of it.
Imagine a friend comes to you and is nervous about starting a new job, a common response to their fear is, "There is nothing to be scared about, you'll be fine." The message being given by this response is that there is something wrong with being afraid. This can leave your friend feeling invalidated and hence judging herself for having the feeling. If we allow our friend instead to feel the fear and ask her what she needs, she is more likely to move through her fear.
Anxiety is the effect of being stuck in the emotion of fear and trying to keep it at bay. The more we try to prevent feeling fear, the more fear grows. The following are some steps that can help you deal with anxiety:
1) Validate that fear is a normal part of human existence.
2) Bring yourself back to the present moment.
3) Figure out what you are actually afraid of.
4) Calm the fears surrounding your anxiety.
1: Validate that fear is a normal part of human existence
Fear is a normal part of human existence. Often what compounds anxiety, at times taking people to the level of panic attacks, is judgment about their own anxiety. People say things to themselves like, "I suffer from anxiety," identifying themselves as anxious people. When we believe that our personality is anxious, every time we become the slightest bit fearful, we will over-focus on those symptoms instead of looking at the ways in which we can calm our fears. Conversely others may say, "I have nothing to be anxious about." This statement devalues our fear, not allowing us to be able to calm it. Not only is the person scared about whatever he is scared about, but he is also angry at himself for feeling this way. If you are mad at yourself for feeling anxious, it is impossible to cope with the fear, leaving you stuck in anxiety.
2: Bring yourself back to the present moment.
Bring yourself back to the present moment. Once you have gotten rid of your judgment about your anxiety, the next step is to know anxiety is fear of the future. To immediately calm anxiety or a panic attack, bring yourself back to the present moment. It is nearly impossible to feel anxious in the moment because ninety-nine times out of a hundred what is making you anxious is not what is happening right now, but what you fear is going to happen. So how can we bring ourselves back to the present moment? There are a number of different ways, and it is important you experiment until you find what works for you. Some examples include:
1. meditation (the art of clearing your mind of the actual thoughts making you anxious)
2. allowing your friends to distract you
3. concentrating on your breathing - inhale and exhale into the belly
4. doing an activity that gives you pleasure and forces you to focus (i.e. taking a walk, listening to music, stretching/yoga, dance, gardening)
5. working out
6. tightening and loosening your muscles starting from your toes and moving up your body
Furthermore, the greater the level of anxiety, the more simple the activity you choose to calm yourself with should be. For example, when having a panic attack start with trying to bring your body back to normal functioning: find the position that makes you the most comfortable (i.e. laying on the floor), focus on your breathing, count 3 seconds in for an inhale and 3 seconds out for the exhale and/or drink water slowly while in a crouched position (which will slow your heart rate down). Finally, keep telling yourself, "I will be okay."
3: Figure out what you are actually afraid of.
Figure out the thoughts creating your anxiety. Once you have brought yourself back to the moment and are in a calmer state, it is time to create long term coping strategies for the anxiety. In order to begin this process, you have to identify the thoughts that are creating fear for you. Most people say, "There are no thoughts, I'm just really anxious." However, it is impossible to have these feelings without thoughts about the future. Sometimes these thoughts can be hard to find because they have been ignored and /or denied for years, so it important to give yourself time and space to figure them out. One of the best ways to do this is to make a list of all the things that could potentially be making you anxious, then read through this list one item at a time, slowly, to see if your body reacts to any of them. Once you know what is making you scared, you can begin to cope with it.
4: Calm the fears surrounding your anxiety.
Calm the fears surrounding your anxiety. Once you identify your fear thoughts, it is important to validate them for yourself. Life is full of many scary things and in our society people often think themselves weak or vulnerable for feeling this fear. Actually, the opposite is true: if individuals are able to see what they are anxious about, not judge themselves, and then calm themselves around those fears, they move through them quickly. The trick is to talk to yourself as if you were calming a kindergartener's fears. We often know how to be loving and empathetic when it comes to others, but don't apply the same rule to ourselves. When we are little, it is our parents and the other adults in our lives' job to help us cope with our feelings. Some people have adults in their lives that are very good at this. When these people become older and it is time for them to calm themselves, the voice in their heads is already soft, sweet and caring. Others are not raised by people who know how to calm fears, and so when these individuals become older they have to spend time building a voice that is calming and compassionate. Most of us have a mixture of both, and the key to becoming a calm, centered and high functioning person is to work on figuring out what voices in our heads are productive and help us reach our goals, and at the same time to calm the voices that keep us stuck and fill us with fear.