The first thing I do when I begin to get anxious is to try and distract myself from the anxious thought. Funny thing is that when I try to not think about it, I find I can’t think of anything else!
Everyone gets anxious – the year 12 student studying for the test of their life, an expectant mother, a father providing for his family, the two day old baby unsure of when the next meal is coming, and so on.
Getting anxious motivates the student to study hard, the expectant mother to learn everything there is to know about labor and how to care for her baby, the father to ensure he has good health and employers, and the motivates the baby to scream down the house to ensure their message is sent to the food provider!
So in these cases anxiety is actually a good thing. I would go as far as calling it a tool for our personal tool boxes.
A hammer is a very helpful tool when you want to put a nail into the fence – however it is also a dangerous tool if not used correctly. The same with anxiety, there are healthy levels/uses of anxiety and unhealthy levels/uses.
Anxiety disorders can develop from a traumatic experience, learned behavior as a child or just from a normal anxious thought (for instance the year 12 student may have spent the whole year preparing for their final tests that they have a long period of anxiety and have trouble letting go, continuing the high stress levels into further education/employment only to burn out).
This kind of anxiety can be extremely debilitating, often made worse by society in their often genuine desire to take away the pain! So how do we control those initially rational anxious thoughts? After all the best lies have an element of truth in them, the same with anxious thought patterns.
Here are five helpful tools to start with:
♦ Exercise: I am no expert in the science of physical exercise, however i have heard that endorphins in the body helps us to cope with the physical and mental stresses in life.
♦ Meditation: Yoga is a common one, however meditation can be focusing on anything you prefer such as through prayer, reading the bible, music, nature walks, etc. Just ensure they are healthy to focus on.
♦ Breathing exercises:Similar to meditation, only you can do it anywhere you are when you start to begin to panic.
♦ Distraction/diffusion: This does not involve removing the anxiety, just lessening the impact of the symptoms. When anxious thoughts arise you can say “thanks mind for that thought” or imagining the thought as a physical being altering its appearance to look funny or change your perspective on it. It is important to come back to the thought addressing it in the new perspective, it is important to listen to yourself and not ignore your own needs.
♦ Counselling combined with medical assessment: Anxiety does not generally have a medical cause as it is a secondary emotion, however stresses in the body can mimic anxiety symptoms which may then cause anxiety that they may return. So it is best to ensure there is nothing physically wrong as well as receiving tools and techniques to help deal with the root cause of the anxiety. The key in all these techniques is to not dismiss your feelings – they are real and need to be addressed.
The following story explains the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety really well:
A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz. She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.” Remember to put the glass down.