Learning to recognize and accept natural responses
WHAT IS ANXIETY AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT THAN STRESS
Anxiety is our cognitive, physical, and behavioral reaction to stress. Anxiety is an internal process that often includes the persistent feeling dread or apprehension that does not go away even when the trigger has passed or has been resolved. Anxiety often occurs even when there is no specific threat – but develops around what “might be.”
Stress is short-term and in response to something specific, like a big presentation at work or an argument with a friend. Stress ends as the situation/trigger is resolved.
Both anxiety and stress cause similar symptoms: excessive worry (cognitive), irritability, fight/flight/freeze
(behavioral), headaches, rapid breathing or heartbeat, and tension/pain in the body (physical) . As stress is resolved, these symptoms are as well. With anxiety, symptoms persist.
Learning to disprove thoughts
Anxious thinking can be the most intrusive and disturbing part of experiencing anxiety. Our anxious thoughts include worst case scenario or “what if” negative thoughts.
What we say to ourselves in response to a situation largely affects our mood and feelings. Work to change negative self-talk:
First, try to notice when anxious worst case scenario or “what if” thinking occurs and name it as such.
Try countering anxious thoughts by telling yourself “these are just anxious thoughts.” or “this is negative and anxious self talk. Having these thoughts does not make them true or more likely to occur.”
Bring in evidence of how similar situations or other times of anxiety have passed, and the worst case scenario did not occur – or that it is survivable.
RESPONSES TO AN ANXIETY ATTACK
Accepting provides relief – judgment maintains symptoms
In addition to engaging with anxious thoughts, work to recognize how anxiety presents in the body and through behavior. Name irritability or lack of patience with others as symptoms of anxiety. Often, our physical response to stress like a rapid heartbeat, can perpetuate anxious thinking. The anxious mind interprets the physical symptom as a sign that something must be wrong. Instead of fearing and avoiding bodily reactions, work on facing them and naming them as something that is occurring physically.
Accept the presence of anxiety. Judging anxiety will make it worse. Judgement keeps us stuck in a fight against or attempted denial of our feelings. Accepting anxiety creates space to think about how we can move through it; that it will end. Imagine riding a wave of anxiety. See what it feels like to step outside your feeling to observe it as it begins and ends.
Once we arrive at acceptance of anxiety, the coping tools we choose to use are more effective. Try the exercises from page one, or a couple from the list below to see which techniques resonate.
GROUNDING TOOLS TO MANAGE ANXIETY
Ground yourself in the present moment using your senses
Name five things you see
Four things you feel (touch)
Three things you hear
Two things you smell
One thing you can taste
Breathe in through your nose to the count of five (belly expands) Pause for five counts.
Breathe out through your mouth to the count of five (belly contracts) Take two normal breaths.
Repeat steps for 3-5 minutes.
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION
Lay or sit in a comfortable, relaxed position.
Start with your toes, tense/squeeze for 5-7 seconds and release for 20-30 seconds.
Focus on the feeling of releasing the tension.
Move to the next muscle groups (calves, thighs, etc.) flexing/squeezing and releasing for the same amount of time.
Work your way up to your head, and feel complete body relaxation.
Stretch or engage in some physical activity like a walk or workout of your choice.
Splash your face with cold water to shock your system and increase trigger your parasympathetic nervous system (diverts attention from anxiety).
Simple distractions may feel good, like completing a small task or singing with a favorite song.