Anxiety is a common part of our modern lifestyle. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are currently 40,000,000 people in the United States living with an anxiety disorder, or approximately 18% of the population. Anxiety is not always a bad thing and can be healthy when it spurs us to step out of our comfort zone to take risks and live our lives more fully.
However, worrying can become problematic when you find yourself preoccupied with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios. Unrelenting doubts and fears can be paralyzing. They can sap your emotional energy, send your anxiety levels soaring, and interfere with your daily life. Fortunately, chronic worrying is a mental and physical habit that can be broken. With knowledge, awareness, and practice you can train your brain and body to stay calm in stressful situations. Following the “three C’s” of anxiety management is the key.
The “Three C’s” of Anxiety Management
1. Calm Your Body
Your body feels awful when you’re experiencing anxiety. You may have feelings such as nausea, a racing heart and difficulty breathing. When these feelings are left unchecked, they can spiral out of control. Some symptoms of anxiety even resemble the signs of a heart attack. The first step is to recognize that these sensations are normal and simply an automatic physiological response to stress that occurs when the fight/flight/freeze part of our brain is activated. By learning relaxation skills such as diaphragmatic breathing and mindfulness you can gain an increased awareness of your body in the moment. Doing so will allow you to effectively deactivate the fight/flight/freeze response, activate the relaxation response, and enable you to respond calmly to stressful situations.
2. Correct Your Thinking
It is not uncommon for people suffering from anxiety to overestimate how dangerous something really is, often jumping to the worst-case scenario. For example, you may not only believe that something bad is going to happen, but that it will be the worst thing ever! You may also underestimate your ability to cope should something bad happen, assuming you will fall apart at the first sign of trouble.
This type of thinking becomes a lifelong pattern that is so automatic you may not even be completely aware of it. Breaking automatic negative thinking patterns involves retraining your brain and becoming a conscious observer of your thoughts. After all, you are not your thoughts. A thought is just a thought and not necessarily true. You may not always be able to control other people or what happens in life. You can, however, gain better control over your mind, and thus your anxiety, by your ability to choose one thought over another.
Start by identifying your worrisome thought. Instead of treating the thought as fact, treat it is as a hypothesis you are testing out. Examining and challenging your worry and fear will help you to develop a more balanced, realistic perspective.
3. Confront Your Fears
Anxiety gets worse when you avoid the sources of your fear. Worrying keeps you trapped in an unproductive cycle. It’s more effective to face those fears head on.
When confronting your fears, it is important to do so gradually. Throwing yourself in the deep end could make matters worse and exacerbate your fears. It is not healthy to take on more than you think you can handle. It is important to establish an environment in which it feels safe to be vulnerable, then work to confront and defuse those worries.
Breaking down your fears into smaller, more manageable pieces can help. For example, if you are single and have a goal of finding a meaningful relationship, you may be afraid you will be alone forever. Instead of wondering how you will ever meet your soulmate, think about how you could make new friends. By focusing on meeting new people, you will increase your odds of reaching your goal without the anxiety and pressure of finding “the one.”
No matter how large or small your fears may seem, breaking them down into a more manageable size will help you to slowly step away from your negative patterns and begin moving toward your goals.
Learning to Manage Your Anxiety is Worthwhile
Even if your anxiety isn’t crippling or if you only deal with it occasionally, you can still benefit from learning how to cope with it. The tools for managing anxiety are not difficult to learn and you don’t have to commit to years of therapy. You can learn the techniques relatively quickly and can start benefiting from them right away.
Whether anxiety rules your everyday life or only upsets you now and then, it still takes a toll on your physical and mental health. Anxiety can raise your blood pressure, disrupt your sleep and make you more likely to adopt unhealthy habits.
Learning to manage your anxiety is a worthwhile investment in yourself. Talking with a highly skilled, non-judgmental counselor about your anxiety can help you master the “three C’s”. You’ll learn that your worries don’t have to control your life anymore. You can live with a whole new sense of authenticity, freedom, and peace.
For more information on how to effectively manage your anxiety visit naomiberrycounseling.com or contact Naomi Berry at 480-427-3553 for a free 15-30 minute phone consultation.