They say a picture is worth a thousand words. For those who deal with anxiety, a thought can be worth 20 million! What kind of thoughts fill your head as you start your day? Some of you may be planners and some of you may be fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types. Some of you might be the type like me – the plan out every possible scenario in your head before you make even the slightest move.
Personal disclosure – hello my name is Amy, I am a counselor, and I have anxiety. Did you just feel like you were in a 12 step meeting? I used to think of myself as an “over thinker” or even a “worrier” at times. I never really used the “a” word though. Then one day a good counselor friend of mine and I were talking about diagnosing each other and he kindly (or not so kindly, haha!) suggested that he would diagnose me with anxiety. Wait, what? Are you talking about me?
Just because I play a million different scenarios in my head before making a decision doesn’t mean I have anxiety? Everyone does that, right? Well it turns out they don’t. This cycle of worry – plan – worry some more – plan…is a nasty trap that can leave us paralyzed.
But there is good news! You can break out of this trap. There are things that can help reduce this anxiety as I have learned to call it. Let me share some helpful tips with you that I have learned over the years through counseling and my own experiences.
Reality Test Your Thoughts
I don’t know about you, but I have the tendency to jump to the worst possible conclusion. If you want to know the worst case scenario for your situation, call me and I can give it to you in 3 seconds. But what I have learned is, number 1, that’s not helpful because it creates more anxiety and, number 2, it is actually not very likely that will happen. So ask yourself, how likely is it that what I am fearing will actually happen? Living in fear of something that has a very low chance of happening, steals your joy and keeps you from enjoying your life right now.
Focus on What You Can Control
There is a whole world out there full of things we cannot control. We can’t control the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of others. We also cannot control natural disasters, many sicknesses, some aspects of our jobs, other drivers on the road, and the list goes on. While this may sound scary at first, there is actually freedom in acknowledging there is so little in our control and learning to let it go. What we can control is our own actions, thoughts and behaviors. Spend your energy focusing on that.
A coping skill for anxiety can be anything healthy that helps reduce your anxiety, or helps you feel more relaxed. It is important to find something that works for you specifically. The list of possibilities is endless: exercise, journaling, reading, watching TV, drawing, knitting (definitely not mine), playing a sport for recreation, spending time with loved ones, etc.
Find what works for you! One of my personal favorites is watching Friends reruns and laughing out loud as Ross says he is F-I-N-E.
Focus on Positive Thoughts
This is something I’ve struggled with for years. Just like I can tell you the worst case scenario in 2 seconds flat, I can also give you the negative spin on your wonderful situation if you want to know. I’ve learned that dwelling on this way of thinking does not change anything. In fact, it only serves to make me feel worse about the situation, which heightens my anxiety. Your thoughts and words are very powerful. If you say negative words about yourself and your situation, you will see it in that light. I know some of you might be saying, but you don’t know my current situation, there is nothing but negative in my life. I’m not downplaying what you may be going through, but make the effort to find something positive to dwell on – it’s worth it.
Use Your Support System
It’s important to find a couple of people in your life you can be honest with about your feelings. If you’re having a moment when you need to “freak out” find a safe person and call them. It’s good to find a person or two who can help talk you down when you have one of those anxious moments or who can just listen if you need to vent. Never be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Let me leave you with a definition of anxiety I read a while back from author Joyce Meyer that really spoke to me: “anxiety is mentally and emotionally leaving where you are and getting into an area of the past or the future.” Don’t miss out on today because of worry and fear about the past or the future.