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Techniques to Help Manage Anxiety
We all feel some anxiety some of the time. It usually comes upon us when we are entertaining thoughts related to fear or self-doubt. Even the most secure and well-adjusted person has difficulty escaping an occasional episode of anxiety.
When it reaches certain levels, the experience of anxiety can feel very uncomfortable. We may clench our jaws, shorten our breath, tense our muscles, feel dizzy, and/or experience headaches and stomachaches. At anxiety’s extreme, we may have difficulty breathing, experience increased heartbeats, and feel paralyzed to move forward until the episode passes. As feelings of anxiety surface and increase, there are some techniques that we can use to help to reduce not only its impending intensity but also the amount of time we may spend in the throes of an anxious episode.
A Safe Place
If you are at home, it helps to place yourself in an area that brings you the most comfort and feelings of safety. This can be a favorite chair, a swing in your backyard, or the couch in your family room. You may want to wrap a favorite blanket around you and/or put your feet up.
Because breathing techniques can be practiced anywhere—at home, at work, or even in the car—they are great go-to techniques when you are beginning to feel anxious. Feelings of fear and worry typically lead people, without being aware of it, to hold or shorten their breaths and clench their muscles. It is extremely calming to take deep inhalations and exhalations. Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose to the count of four and then letting the breath out slowly to the count of four. If you have trouble with that length, start with counts of two and work your way up. Deliberately slowing down the breath will slow down your heartbeat and release the tension in your muscles.
Visualization techniques are best done at home or in a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed. Think of a favorite and happy scene or place you have either been to before, or desire to be, and picture it in your mind’s eye. While your eyes are closed, notice all the details and vivid colors. See movement, and imagine you are able to smell the wonderful scents that go along with your scene. It could be the beach, a forest trail, or a park with a pond and beautiful, exotic flowers. Your safe, calming place will be unique to you. You may imagine swimming in the ocean, walking along a nature path, or sitting on a park bench.
For many people, participating in certain activities brings great happiness and comfort and can be a great stress reducer. These activities can include cooking or baking, drawing, exercising, taking a hot bath, listening to music, taking a walk in the neighborhood, reading a good book, or watching a favorite movie. The idea here is to distract your mind from your thoughts of fear and self-doubt. It is extremely helpful to make a list of these activities (as well as the other techniques), so if you find you are having trouble thinking clearly, you can grab your list of activities for helpful reminders.
Make a List
If you know the thoughts and situations that typically contribute to your anxiety, making a list is a great technique. Your list should have two columns: one column will list the situations and thoughts that contribute to an increase in your feelings of anxiety. The other column will list statements or plans to diffuse the thought or situation. For example, if you wrote in the first column, “I am afraid that if I leave the house, I may get locked out,” you could write next to that, “I will hide a house key under the large stone in the backyard by the big oak tree.” If you wrote, “I am not good at writing,” you could write next to that, “I have a degree in English, and I’ve written many articles and books that have been positively received.” Having a plan, or focusing on the positive aspects of a situation, can provide you with great comfort and a sense of control. Because most of our anxiety comes from the feeling that we are inadequate or helpless in a situation, taking control and changing the thoughts we decide to think can greatly reduce these feelings.
It is true that no matter how effective and sophisticated your techniques are, you will still continue to experience anxiety if you don’t also address the sources of it. However, anxiety is a feeling we will experience at times, as are feelings of anger, sadness, and joy. Having techniques at the ready can empower you to feel better faster and possibly reduce the quantity of anxious episodes you experience. Changing your thoughts from negative to positive and taking control over situations that you usually worry about can significantly reduce your experiences of anxiety or, better yet, stop them dead in their tracks.
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Content copyright © 2013 by Dr. Ilyssa Hershey. All rights reserved.
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