3 Simple Steps to Tame Your Anxiety

Manage Anxiety

Anxiety Management for Anxiety Disorders

 

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Panic Disorder often feel like a Jack in the Box. You never know when it will go off. Learning how to manage the feelings of anxiety and the negative thoughts that tend to take over during those moments takes practice and persistence. Many people need someone with expertise to teach them the skills needed to get the anxiety under control. But once you “get it”, you can effectively manage your symptoms.

Once you know how to calm your nervous system down manually, you can work with a good counselor to explore what is underneath the symptoms. This is where the real healing begins. It is hard work, of course, but learning how to manage your emotions first gives you the stability you need in your life and the confidence you crave in yourself to do the hard stuff.

Anxiety Management for All

 

This skill is critical for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, but these steps work for everyone. Believe me. I use them each and every day. We all have anxiety and stress in our lives. So, these steps are really helpful whether you have just a little unruly anxiety or you feel crippled by it.

Step One: Awareness

The first step involves knowing what you are feeling and how strong it is.  Awareness

Many people are only aware of their feelings when they are in the panic zone. Often admitting to day-to-day anxiety is thought of as weak or whining. However, if we can avoid the self-judgment and catch the emotion early, our emotional train is much easier to stop.

Waiting until it is going full force is like trying to stop a roller coaster after that first car or two has already gone over the brink. At that point, you just have to wait out the ride and hope your support rails are strong enough to keep you from a total disaster.

Early awareness involves taking the time to sort through what actually happens in your body, behavior, and thoughts when you feel anxious. Once you know what happens, you can start to put that on a scale from 1-10 to rate the intensity. For younger kids, a stoplight analogy usually works. Green for low grade symptoms, Yellow for medium intensity, and Red for really strong feelings/symptoms.

Step Two: Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Coping Skills

 

Once you have caught your feelings early, you can now choose a healthy coping skill.  Coping Skills

We all want to feel better, but sometimes our impulses when we are feeling negative feelings are not healthy. Examples might include cutting, emotional eating, drugs/alcohol, or even working too much. The thing you have to remember is that these things really do work…at least in the beginning. The problem is that unhealthy coping skills end up creating more problems in the long run.

Another common issue is not having enough variety in your coping skills. Anything that you do too much becomes unhealthy. Even water can kill you if you drink too much at once and disrupt your electrolytes.

So, we have to learn to choose a variety of healthy coping skills. If we choose wisely, we can become more and more effective at anxiety management.

Let me give an example. I’m a working parent. By the time I have finished work, made dinner, and put the kids to bed, I often feel exhausted. It’s not uncommon for me to want to plop onto the couch for an hour or two (or even more if I’m really stressed and allow myself to get sucked into Netflix).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Sitcoms can be a great way to unwind and distract, but do they actually help you feel less exhausted? Nine times out of ten, people will say they feel stiff and sore after a few hours of TV.

So, maybe it distracts you and gives you a few laughs, but your body still feels exhausted. And the more you do this night after night, the more bored you’ll get. Eventually, you’ll find yourself still caught up in the worries of the day while you are supposedly watching TV.

If, instead, you try 30 minutes of yoga or go outside and listen to the night for a few minutes, you might be surprised how re-energized and engaged you become. Even just taking a few deep breaths or putting on some great music can help. If you do have an anxiety disorder, learning grounding techniques and mindfulness can be key.

Everyone is different. The trick is to try out new things, then see how you feel afterwards. If you feel more calm, it worked! If not, try something different. After a while, you’ll have a whole list of things to do that really work in a variety of settings with all different levels of anxiety.

Step Three: Evaluate

 

The final step is taking a step back and trying to objectively evaluate the situation.  Evaluate

Many people make the mistake of doing this while they are still really anxious. I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’m likely to think thoughts like, I’ll never get this done or I can’t ever finish anything I start. “All or nothing” and judgmental thinking will only increase my anxiety–not help me manage it.

So, it’s better to table these thoughts (ie. Ignore them) until you are calm again and able to be more objective. Ask yourself what triggered the emotion? Is there anything you can do about it, or (this is more often the case) are you trying to control a situation where you have no control? If so, the task is just letting it go.

If you have PTSD and are experiencing a flashback, then you might want to look at all the little ways the current moment is different from your memory. Have you aged? Is the time of day or year different? Are you inside now? Can you smell, hear, taste, touch things that are different than what occurred during the bad time? Then get curious about what felt similar. This becomes part of your list of “known triggers”. Once you know your triggers, you can begin to either actively avoid them or increase your tolerance of them. Being objective allows you to observe and ultimately to choose how you want to respond.

Summary

 

Anxiety management is really the same whether you are dealing with low-grade stress or a full blown panic attack. Many of us know what to do, but struggle to actually do it. Anxiety grows when we try to avoid it. Following these three steps can help you learn how to keep your anxiety well in check.

If you need a little extra help, though, the counselors at Hope For The Journey provide expert care for those who have experienced sexual trauma. We’d be happy to help!

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