Three Simple Steps to Anxiety Management
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and
Panic Disorder often feel like a jack in the box—you never know when it will go
off. Learning how to manage these feelings takes practice and persistence. But
once you “get it”, you can effectively manage your symptoms, allowing you the
stability to live your life and actually seek treatment for the disorder at the
same time. This is critical for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, but
these steps work for everyone—even the chronically high-strung, as my dear
sweet husband might describe me.
The first step involves knowing what you are feeling and how
strong it is. Many people are only aware of their
feelings when they are in the panic zone. Often admitting to day-to-day anxiety
is thought of as weak or whining. However, if we can avoid the self-judgment
and catch the emotion early, our emotional train is much easier to stop.
Waiting until it is going full force is like trying to stop a roller coaster
after that first car or two has already gone over the brink. At that point, you
just have to wait out the ride and hope your support rails are strong enough to
keep you from a total disaster.
Once you have caught your feelings early, you can now choose
a healthy coping skill (one that does not have a negative
impact on you, your health, or those around you). Often we just react and use a
coping skill that is ineffective or overused. If we choose more wisely, we can
be more effective. For example, by the time we have finished work, dinner, and
putting the kids to bed, most of us feel exhausted and plop onto the couch for
an hour or two or three of mindless boob-tube watching. Sitcoms can be a great
way to unwind and distract, but do they actually help you feel less exhausted?
Nine times out of ten, people will say they feel stiff and sore after a few
hours of TV. If instead, you try 30 minutes of yoga or sitting on the back deck
chatting with your significant other while the night closes in, you might be
surprised how re-energized and engaged you become. Everyone is different. The
trick is to try out new things, then see how you feel afterwards. If you feel
more calm, it worked! If not, try something different. After a while, you’ll
have a whole list of things to do that really work in a variety of settings
with all different levels of anxiety.
The final step is taking a step back and trying to objectively
evaluate the situation. Many people make the mistake of doing
this while they are still escalated. I don’t know about you, but if I’m feeling
overwhelmed, I’m likely to think thoughts like, I’ll never get this done or I
can’t ever finish anything I start. All or nothing, judgmental thinking
will only increase my anxiety–not help me manage it. So, it’s better to table
these thoughts (ie. Ignore them) until you are calm again and able to be more
objective. Ask yourself what triggered the emotion? Is there anything you can
do about it, or (this is more often the case) are you trying to control a
situation where you have no control? If so, the task is just letting it go.
Following these three steps is much
easier said than done, but they work. Try them out and let me know how it goes!