A Six-Part Approach to Managing Anxiety

Most of us experience anxiety at different times in life; it’s when it takes over our quality of life that it becomes a problem. But what is anxiety, and do you experience it?

There two different types of anxiety: external and internal.

External anxiety comes from outside events that produce an internal reaction inside us. Examples include sitting in traffic jams and worrying about being late, or perhaps an argument with a spouse.

Internal anxiety is when a person internally generates anxiety with an internal thought.

Thinking, “What if my boyfriend doesn’t like what I said and he leaves me, and then I’m all alone and I can’t take care of myself and I break down?”

We think the worst, and then our thoughts become a generator of this biochemical reaction in our bodies. A moment of anxiety automatically sends an alarm system to our brains. In this case, the anxiety is all in the mind, and it manifests into a physical reaction. When this happens, we start to question the physical symptoms.

The fuzzy, anxious feeling won’t hurt you. It’s only an adrenaline response. But when you focus on the fear, you may create more cortisol and adrenaline, which will create more body symptoms and more confusion. When adrenaline hits the limbic system of the brain, we feel intense terror. The thinking part of our brain reacts, and we start to question how we feel and we want to fix it.

Start by making a list of situations that make you uncomfortable and you find yourself wanting to avoid. Here are some possible examples:

  • shopping in stores
  • bridges
  • standing in lines
  • socializing with people
  • talking in front of an audience
  • being alone

Now write down the body sensations you could experience during an anxiety episode.

Here are more examples:

  • racing heart
  • feelings of confusion or bewilderment
  • insomnia or sleeping too much
  • feelings of fatigue and depression
  • feelings of helplessness
  • muscle tension
  • headaches
  • strange or scary thoughts

Now that you’ve thought about what makes you most anxious and how you react, don’t worry—you are not crazy, and you are not alone.

Anxiety can be caused by the following:

  • obsessively thinking about what may happen
  • thoughts that create body symptoms
  • feeling fear of losing control
  • projecting into the past and worrying about the future

The following is a six-part approach to helping manage anxiety:

  1. Recognize that you are feeling anxious and accept feelings as a sign that something is bothering you.
  2. Try to figure out what is really bothering you. Is it some kind of conflict you don’t want to deal with? Is it a scary thought? Is it a ridiculous expectation you have of yourself? Did you eat chocolate or drink caffeine last night?
  3. Give yourself permission to feel anxious about whatever it is that is bothering you.
  4. Use compassion and self-talk to move past anxiety. It will be ok. You can go about your business until it passes.
  5. Get busy. Do something productive with all the energy.
  6. Try to see a little humor in the way you feel and laugh at yourself a little. For example, if you don’t like confronting someone, say to yourself, “I don’t like confronting people. That is a normal, OK reaction to have.”

Being aware of what is causing your anxiety is the first step. Once you find out what is bothering you, you can use the six-part approach above to help cope with and diminish your symptoms. Remember, anxiety is often caused by a physical reaction to our thoughts. If one can stop and take time to recognize the thoughts and where they are coming from, one can then learn to do self-talk and understand that there are healthy ways to manage anxiety.

If anxiety has taken over your life give the counselors at KeySolutions a call at 605-334-5850. 

© Copyright 2014 by Joanna Engelman LMSW, MA, therapist in New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.

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