Managing Anxiety in Three Steps
In this post I will discuss a three step approach to managing anxiety. The three steps taken together describe a process in which you will take control of your anxiety and your life. In addition to the things described in this post two key things you can do to make a significant difference right away are to forgive yourself for feeling anxious (it truly is not your fault; no one chooses to feel anxious!) and to maintain healthy life habits including adequate exercise, good nutrition, sufficient sleep and good relationships. In the next post in this series I will cover specific techniques associated with each of the steps described below.
Noticing and Naming
The first step is what I call “noticing and naming” or “N&N”. This step involves becoming intimately acquainted with how anxiety manifests itself in your life. When does it show up? What does it look like when it does? What tends to precede and to follow it? Are there identifiable patterns that you can see and name? What does it look like over time – in the beginning, in the middle and at the end?
Because anxiety is unpleasant, we tend to turn our attention away from it as a coping strategy. This strategy, though understandable, can back fire because it allows anxiety to fester and grow unchecked. Not noticing and naming it, allows it to be in control of you rather than the other way around. The trick here is to become intimate with your anxiety. This may seem counter-intuitive, but that which you can notice and name (i.e., take into your awareness) is much less likely to control you than that which you cannot bring yourself to be fully aware of.
Attending and Befriending
The next step is to “attend to and befriend” your anxiety. What is meant by this is to stay with it and to have compassion for the anxiety itself and for yourself as you experience it. The more you fight against anxiety the more deeply entrenched it becomes. If you can learn to open to it, learn what it is trying to tell you (it usually has to do with safety) and learn to embrace rather than reject it, it will have less of a grip on you.
The way to do this is to approach it and yourself with a friendly kindness and compassion. See if you can tune into what it is trying to protect you from. Try to feel grateful to it for it’s efforts to keep you safe (I know this sounds strange, but try it anyway.) Also see if you can simply be aware of and attend to it’s presence with out fighting it. If possible, just notice how it feels in your body and how that feeling changes and discharges over time.
Acting Out and Reaching In
The next step is where you will take action to deal with your anxiety both outwardly and inwardly. I call this step “acting out and reaching in”. This is where you will reverse the tendency to avoid anxiety provoking things and get pro-active. You will take productive steps toward dealing with the things that you feel anxious about rather than avoiding them. If you can’t accomplish them right away, you will create a list so that you don’t have to remember them and then you will cross them off one-by-one as you get to them so that you are able to see yourself making concrete progress.
As you take these steps you will also reach in by remaining mindfully aware of the anxiety that arises in you as you move forward. Without fighting the anxiety or judging it or yourself for having it, you will watch it with compassion as it rises and then dissipates. (And, it does always dissipate!).
Stay tuned for the next post in which I will cover specific techniques associated with each of these steps. If you are finding your anxiety to be overwhelming and feel you could benefit from the assistance of a therapist, please feel free to contact me either by phone or using the contact form below to discuss how I may be of assistance to you. I offer counselling sessions in person, by phone and through video formats.
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