5 Steps to Overcome Anxiety
We will look at five steps you can take to overcome your anxiety but first let’s start with a basic understanding of what anxiety is.
Anxiety is a physiological state in our body that is set off by an area of our brain known as the amygdala when our body or our mind perceives some kind of a threat or danger. Before modern times, this internal alarm system would’ve saved us from predators and prehistoric dangers. If our ancestors didn’t have the instinct from anxiety to run or fight we would not be here. In this regard, anxiety deserves our gratitude and respect.
The way anxiety feels in our bodies varies person to person but typically one can expect to feel the following: tightness or heaviness in the chest, butterflies in the stomach, light-headedness, shallow and rapid breathing, tightening of the muscles, increased heartrate and palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, etc. This physiological process is honestly amazing because it allows us to be at peak alertness and readiness to make the next right move that could potentially save our lives.
Your child is being threatened by a dog. Someone is attempting to break into your home. The car in front of you has just slammed on its breaks. The amygdala perceives the danger and readies us for action. This is so good!
But what if you’re realizing that anxiety has a little too much control in your life. Sure it saves you from real and imminent danger but what about when the anxiety alarm bells go off when you simply think about public speaking, look at your work schedule for the day, consider walking into the grocery store, or someone calls you on the phone instead of texting you (Gasp! The last one is a joke, sort of). When our brain begins to perceive every situation as somehow threatening or dangerous and the anxiety bells are ringing all the time it becomes exhausting, overwhelming, and it either leads to depression or panic attacks or both.
Maybe you’re reading the above mentioned physical anxiety symptoms and thinking, I don’t normally feel any of those things.
Well, anxiety can masquerade in our thoughts and thought patterns without manifesting physically (at least initially). If you are someone who “overanalyzes” everything, perfects and problem-solves all situations, hypercritical of self or others, constantly thinking (worrying) about the future (things that might never happen), reviewing past conversations or interactions to make sure you didn’t do or say the wrong thing, then you might have anxiety.
Are you often giving out words of caution or expressing dissatisfaction? Or on the flip-side, are you “nice” all the time and maybe even seen as someone who “goes with the flow?” In my experience, anxious people can be some of the nicest people around. Why? Because they are so concerned with how they are perceived and wish to stay in good standing with everyone because if conflict arises it is way too uncomfortable. People who operate this way frequently end up burning out and withdrawing or experiencing depression. Its also possible that you have orchestrated your life in such a way that you are not as likely to feel anxious and only notice it when things happen outside of your control and you have to readjust causing you to become angry or irritable (anxiety) until things return to normal.
Either way, whether your anxiety exists in your body or your thoughts or both, when we let it be the boss of how we live our lives things can get downright miserable.
And here is the good news… anxiety is so very treatable. Even if it seems completely out-of-control and all-consuming and has been with you for years, you can feel better and you can live a life that is pleasurable and authentic that only contains a healthy dose of anxiety. It DOES take work to get to this place but consider how much work and effort your anxiety takes. Does your anxiety demand that you solve all future problems and cull through all the possible consequences before you try something new or different? Does your anxiety interrupt your sleep, your appetite, or your sex drive? Does your anxiety force you to say no to things that you really want to say yes to because avoidance has become a way for you to manage your anxious thoughts and feelings? Do you find that family and friends are needing space from you due to your need to be regularly reassured by them? See? Living an anxious life takes a lot of work and honestly, there isn’t much to gain from this way of living. So yes, changing your anxious life takes work, effort, and discomfort but what you gain on the other side of it is freedom, connection, and pleasure.
So, you want to fire your anxiety and be the boss of your life?
Step 1- Pay attention to how much of your thoughts and behaviors are based on fear and the need to be safe or maintain a perceived sense of safety.
Step 2- Take this anxiety assessment and see what range you score in. Take it once a week for a few weeks to see if there is a pattern or trend. If your score indicates low or no anxiety and you still think anxiety is the boss of you, then learn more about high-functioning anxiety. Be aware that this is not an actual diagnosis but its certainly helpful in understanding and addressing anxiety that might not look like anxiety on the surface or by the assessment.
Step 3- Learn about anxiety through books, podcasts, talking with others and going to therapy. I recommend anything by Dr. David Burns, Catherine Pittman, Ph.D., Lynn Lyons, Margaret Wharenberg, Psy.D.
Step 4- Be open to different interventions and coping methods. Not everyone needs medication but some people do. Deep breathing and mindfulness do not work for everyone but its great for some. Exposing yourself to your fears and worries will likely be part of the treatment plan but it will be done compassionately and with purpose and intention. There are skills and systems that you can develop to help you figure out how to live with your anxiety without it taking over.
Step 5- Accept that anxiety is a part of life and that it is good and necessary. We don’t want to get rid of it entirely but we do want to get it to a more manageable place. Setbacks and anxiety relapses are normal and par for the course. Anxiety needs ongoing monitoring and adjustments. What works now might not always work.
If your anxiety continues to get in your way and you’ve tried all the self-help options out there, maybe its time to seek help from a professional who specializes in treating anxiety. If you would like to make an appointment you can schedule an appointment online.