Top 5 ways to gain control of your anxiety in the moment.
The emotional state of anxiety is a part of the human experience. Whether you've been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or you're just looking for better ways to manage the inevitable and uncomfortable feeling, here are my top 5 recommendations for managing anxiety when it strikes.
1) Grounding. If you think about your internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations) as your 6th sense, to ground oneself simply means to bring your attention to the other 5 senses: touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and seeing. Lets imagine that your anxiety is like a scary movie playing in your head, grounding is the equivalent to shifting your attention from the movie, to the movie theater you're watching it in. Notice the ugly carpet on the ground, see how many people are sitting in the audience, take in the smell of stale popcorn, listen to the coughing and subtle whispers in the audience. Funnel your attention into your immediate surroundings. Better yet, keep things on hand that naturally appeal to your 5 senses. Maybe that’s lighting a scented candle, cozying up in a soft blanket, or having pieces of art you appreciate near by. Regardless of what your environment is in the moment, grounding is a skill that can take place anywhere at anytime.
2) Deep breathing. How cliche of a recommendation, right? But if you understand the science of it, there's really no way around it. Deep breathing helps to regulate the physiological stress response. Will it solve all of your problems and bring you lasting joy and peace? No. However, when done properly it will regulate the intensity of your emotional experiences to a point that allows you to think more clearly, and problem solve. Two things which can be very challenging to nearly impossible to do when your anxiety is off the charts.
3) Acceptance. Contrary to popular belief, trying to avoid, suppress or get ride of your anxiety often perpetuates and intensifies your experience. Take panic attacks for example. At it's core, panic is fear of your own fear/anxiety. We escalate to a full blown panic attack when the fear of the fear has snow-balled out of control. Breaking this cycle entails getting comfortable with that first degree of anxiety and fear. We often cant help our initial response to situations, we can however practice acceptance and openness to whatever that response might be. Getting comfortable with your anxiety, is the antidote to it escalating beyond your control.
4) Surrendering. A step beyond acceptance, and potentially a very profound tool. If you're in a safe space, and have the time to allow, check in and ask yourself: what's REALLY driving that sense of anxiety? I've often found both personally and with my clients, that anxiety serves as a protective layer against an emotion we perceive to be more painful. Whether that's sadness over a loss, a fear of failure, or feelings of dread about an upcoming change. Get honest with yourself and give these feelings some breathing room. The thing about feelings is that they are not "stayings". As uncomfortable as they might be, they come and go, they change, they move. You're simply allowing them to take its natural course of action.
5) Sharing with a trusted someone. there is something to be said for humans connecting with other humans about our struggles as humans. It can be hard to gain perspective of our own internal experiences when it feels like we are swimming in them. Talking to an open and understanding friend or family member, gets whatever is bogging you down out of you, and into the open. Even if its not a solvable anxiety, at least you aren't carrying it alone.
Don't have a trusted someone? Or need help practicing the skills above? It might be time to reach out to a therapist. Only you can take charge of your well-being.