Let’s talk about anxiety!
This feeling that no one likes, this emotion so many of us fear and fight. We all try to avoid this sensation, this weight sitting right on our chest, blocking our creativity, our capacity to actually do something and well … It sometimes even builds up until our
friend Panic Attack shows up, or all our great coping mechanisms like alcohol, cigarettes, excess of food etc. take back their place on the stage of our life.
Now, have you ever heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT? If not, then let me show you today how you can use some of its specifically designed and very effective techniques to reduce your anxiety and stop feeling stuck and take the control back on your life.
Let’s look at it as if there was now in your life, a situation that makes you really nervous and that is seriously a problem. Let’s pick a (
uncommon) subject of these days: the coronavirus pandemic, but it could very well be an important test/event you’ll have tomorrow that you are really not ready for. The first thing to do is: take a step.
Understand what exactly you are worrying about. This step is when you need to identify and articulate as clearly and concisely as possible the exact thoughts behind your emotions. What is really making you feel anxious right now? I would also advise you to write it down.
Find out if you can do something to deal with this situation right now or if it turns out that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change it.
If it’s the second option, then imagine you have an on-off worrying switch in your brain. Turn the switch off and focus on something else because worrying for something you can’t act upon makes no sense (easy to say, not so hard to do when you know how).
If you find yourself in the first situation, where you found there is actually something you can do to change it, then make a list of all your options. Use this list to make a plan, consider your options, then place them in order of what can be done right now and what needs to be done later.
Now it is time to act on the question “Is there something I can do right now?”. If your answer is Yes then you need to do it right now and then, stop worrying. Switch to something else. If your answer is No then you need to plan what should be done and when you will be able to do it and then calm down. That’s it, there’s nothing you can do right now so stop worrying and switch to other businesses.
Here is a little scheme of it, stupidly basic but very effective.
“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying?”
Easy to say, but how do I do it!?
Let’s learn to use this scheme in practice but first I want to explain why we feel the way we feel. Why anxiety even exist and why it puts us in this uncomfortable position, numb, without any control on our thoughts and feelings.
When we go back to its essence, anxiety should not be a feeling to be felt most of the time. It should come and go, like hunger or thirst, it should fluctuate and disappear when its need is met. What I mean by that is, when you act the way your body asks you to, like give it water when its thirsty then you usually don’t think about it anymore, you stop feeling the physical and emotional symptoms of thirst. So basically put, thirst serves us as a motivation to go find water and to drink, just as anxiety serves us to focus on understanding why we are worried, so we find a solution and take actions.
When we look at it that way, worry should stop, and anxiety should disappear when the problem is solved. However, when you’re someone with anxiety, you know it doesn’t. This means you did not answer to the question your mind or body is looking for you to, or that it’s been so long your brain doesn’t even know anymore what you are worrying about. In this case, anxiety has become something unproductive for you, but it still is there because it has become a habit.
Therefore, what must be done in order to use worry the right way is as seen above.
You need to clearly understand the reason for these worries to be here. It means you need to formulate with words the thoughts behind your concerns, this will allow you to be really aware of the problem.
Let’s take our example. You are worried about the corona virus. Now you need to write your worries correctly.
Don’t just write “I am worried about the corona virus”. You must understand what exactly you are worried about and it will usually be not one but a few thoughts.
You could write:
- “I’m worried I will get infected and get sick.
- I am worried that if I am sick, I will have to go to the hospital and as there’s not enough place for everyone they won’t be able to help me, and I will die there.
- I am worried that if I’m sick I won’t be able to take care of my children, what will happen to them then?
- Also, I’m worried my relatives will get sick, my parents are old, if they get sick, they could die even if they have good doctors.
- I feel helpless.
- I feel guilty I am not capable to protect the people I love and care about.
- Oh also, what about money? If I can’t work much longer, we won’t have a roof to live under!”
Ask yourself: what can I do in this situation?
If your answer is nothing, then let’s now consider how to stop worrying. When I say use the switch to stop worrying, I don’t mean it will happen by itself, or just saying the
magic words “stop worrying”.
Time to use our CBT (Cognitive Behavior technique)!
Imagine you are doing something you enjoy doing, minding your own business and somehow, all of a sudden, you feel something, you begin to worry and see your old-time well-known friend, Anxiety. You didn’t have the time to say you wanted to spend some time alone, it’s too late, she (he?) is here, happily sited on your chest, telling you all these thoughts you just really don’t want to hear now. Time to act!
When you notice these thoughts, these self-critical thoughts, worst scenario thoughts etc. you have to stop and switch to something else. How?
Something that really works for me is to close my eyes and imagine my friend Anxiety, tell her thank you for being here but I am in control right now. I watch her getting smaller like a little anxious fairy on my chest and I take her in my hands and send her away. It can seem stupid, but visualizations have proved to be very useful in many situations. You can imagine here your friend Anxiety to be as you want – it can an animal, a version of yourself, a shape, a color, anything. You can also just put back your focus in whatever you are doing – concentrate on the present moment. Smile, say « hello anxiety« , wink at it and go on with your life.
This usually will have to be done several times, do it as many times as needed. Sometimes throughout even half an hour you will notice that you might have to do it 5 to 10 times.
Remember that it is not a bad emotion you have to fight don’t look at it as the enemy to eradicate. As any emotion its here to bring you some information about you or your surroundings. Understand it is here to help you, it might have become a problem in your life right now, but its essence is not bad.
Why it might be harder than it sounds?
Imagine your brain a beautiful forest. There’s a path in front of you, you can see the path has been walked on many times as the grass doesn’t grow much there. This means it is a safe way go on, it means it’s the way you’ve been using already many times.
When you are someone living with anxiety this way, it is the anxious reaction you usually have. This is the safe path, to feel anxiety is what your brain recognizes as safe because it is what it has done for a long, long … long time now.
When you want to walk on another path, your brain just sees that you want to get in the forest on an unknown path and sends Anxiety back at you to remind you “this is not what I know, this seems dangerous”. It is new, so your brain sees danger. If you are not listening to it for this specific subject it will try to act on something else to numb you, so you don’t go down that path and send Anxiety on a different topic. For example, if you use the switch and stop feeling anxious about the fact that the virus is spreading in the world, you might begin to feel anxious a minute later about the fact that you’re not enough in shape, not eating well, not a good enough friend or parent etc.
This means you did not actually used the switch, you did not send your fairy away, you just moved it to another topic. When we talk about anxiety we talk about sticky thoughts and I love this image because I always imagine having something sticky on my fingers, trying to throw it away but instead it just keeps on sticking to another finger or part of my hand.
To fight this, you need to concentrate on something positive, on the present moment, not on the past, not on the future focus on what is happening right at this second, focus on body sensations, on the air you breath, on the sound you hear.
Here is a list of things you can do, broken down into the 4 happiness hormones. This is an example you can make your own and hang it somewhere you can see it as a quick reminder.
|Dopamine (In relation with achieving a self-development goal)||Learn something new Make art …|
|Serotonin (In relation with an ego boost)||Help someone
Give to charity …
|Endorphin (In relation with a light pain)||Stretch Workout …|
|Oxytocin (In relation with tenderness)||Play with children Cuddle …|
Now what if I can act on my problem?
Most of the time, our dear friend appears precisely in those life situations that require us to undertake some decisive and focused action in order to solve our problem. This mean that in most cases your answer to the question “Is there something I can do about it?” will be Yes.
Nowadays you can’t just activate the fight or flight answer. 99% of our problems won’t be solved by just fighting or running away as fast as possible. In case you wondered, yes this is why you feel this weird feeling that you need to escape as fast as possible or this weird anger rushing through your veins wanting to attack an invisible threat.
So, what do we do?
Our modern reality is more complex, it requires us to first understand the situation we are in. So first we need to find any missing information in order to clearly know what we need to do. Time to use the switch, thank Anxiety for the hint and look for all the information we need to act. Time to learn, to analyze, to systematize and to plan what needs to be done to solve our problem.
Look only for reliable information and don’t fall in the trap of spending hours, days or even weeks procrastinating – looking for more and more information and never actually getting into action. It will seem like it calms your anxiety down but it’s just a parade, remember, anxiety ends when you take action.
You might want to look for information online. Great idea ! But then you must be able to clearly distinguish opinions from facts. A fact is something that can always be checked, something that is certain, that is proven, something that is not an estimation, there’s no emotion tied to it. An opinion is only the expression of a conviction or a judgment; it’s good or bad, right or wrong based on an individual or cultural view.
Now, let’s apply our step 3. Act on what you can do right now and do it or plan it if you can’t act on it right now and use your switch. Stop worrying, act.
If we go back to our example with the corona virus. You have written down the list of what exactly you are worried about. Now you have to learn more about the virus, study from official sources of information like the World Health Organization and your country’s health ministry. You have now found specific clear answers to your questions. It is time to act on it. First, put the necessary prevention measures in place in order to protect yourself and your children. Then write the different needed plans in case you’d be sick, in case your children or parents are sick, in case this situation impacts your business etc. and make it cristal clear with simple instructions. Look for doctors, for ways to create a new income stream etc.
So now everything is ready, and it turns out you really can’t do anything else than staying home. You did all you had to do, you’re prepared, time to use the switch, thanks Anxiety, if needed use some of the strategies we’ve seen earlier and go on with your life.
Oh, and one last thing!
Don’t ever feel ashamed because you are feeling anxious and it is blocking you on the moment. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness experiences worldwide. Check our page on Anxiety Disorders or listen our MISTAGs talking about their experience to learn more about it. You can also contact Yaelle for a personal session here or check our YouTube Channel here.