5 Tips For Managing Anxiety (inc. 2 videos)
1. Know what is worrying you: Be specific
It has been said that worry is not an emotion but a behaviour that leads to an emotion; you worry (behaviour) and therefore you feel ANXIOUS (emotion). Feeling anxiety is a result of the things that you are worrying about and in order to manage the anxiety you first need to know what is worrying you. Do you ever feel, though, that you don’t know what you are worried about? If someone were to ask ‘Well, what are you worrying about?’ Your answer might be ‘Everything!’ Or ‘I’m not even sure, I’m just worried!’
This is where being SPECIFIC comes in. If you can specify a worry then you are part way to managing the anxiety that comes from it. Firstly, you want to think generally and then narrow things down. So ask yourself the question ‘What do I have to be worried about?’ Is it your finances? Your relationship? Work? Studies? Once you have identified the general area/s of worry, get them out of your head by writing them down so you can see them. Then it’s time to get SPECIFIC by asking yourself ‘What is it that at CURRENT TIME on CURRENT DAY that I am worrying about?’ and then write this down as well. You will then have a list of worries that are clearly identified and, now you have that list, you can start dealing with them one by one to manage your anxiety.
2. Know which type of worry it is
Once you have a clear idea of what you are worrying about you can then deal with it. Well…sort of. It does depend on what type of worry you have. There are 2 TYPES OF WORRY; the SOLVABLE and the HYPOTHETICAL.
As the name suggests, the SOLVABLE are worries that you can actually do something about and can solve. These would be things like ‘I don’t have enough money to pay the bill that is due’. You could solve this in a number of ways such as asking to borrow money from family or friends or speaking to the company you owe the money to and setting up a more manageable repayment plan or visiting the bank for a loan.
The second set, the HYPOTHETICAL, are things that can’t be solved…because nothing has actually happened yet…and it may never happen! These types of worries can be identified as they tend to start with the words ‘WHAT IF?’ What if my partner leaves me? What if I make a mistake at work? What if I fail the exam? If you’re worry is that you may have left the door unlocked when you left the house then that’s a WHAT IF worry too because you could easily say ‘WHAT IF I left the door unlocked?!?!’ The way to deal with this category of worries is to…let them go. You can’t do anything to solve nothing! But that probably sounds easier said then done…which leads us on to Tip 3…
3. Let go of the hypothetical
To ‘let go’ of your hypothetical worries you first need to understand that your attention is like a spotlight. Imagine for a moment that you are in the theatre watching a play. There are 5 characters on the stage all interacting with one another and then suddenly the lights dim and a spotlight is shone on just one of the characters and he starts to deliver a monologue. Where do you think your attention would be? On the actors portraying a couple arguing in the background? On the woman sitting at the edge of the stage knitting? More than likely, your attention would be on the actor that is delivering the monologue. And why? Because the spotlight has you focusing all of your attention on him.
It is like that with our thoughts. Though hypothetical worries may come you do not have to pay attention to them and can chose to focus on something else. Imagine they are unwanted visitors at your door. You hear them knocking but you don’t have to let them in! So when you are thinking ‘WHAT IF my partner leaves me?’ or when you find yourself worrying ‘WHAT IF I I don’t have anyone to talk to at the party tonight?’ acknowledge the thought is there but you do not have to focus on it and engage with it.
Switching your attention away from your worries is hard and takes practice to master. The Floating Thoughts video shows one technique that could help you. You must have persistence to manage this type of worry so watch the video and practice this technique more than once.
4. Increase coping perception
Welcome to the ANXIETY EQUATION 101.
If you take a situation with highly perceived danger and add that to a decreased perception of your ability to cope do you know what you get? ANXIETY.
[Increased perception of DANGER + Decreased perception of ABILITY TO COPE = ANXIETY]
The more danger you perceive and the less you believe in yourself to cope with the possible outcomes the more anxious you will be.
EXAMPLE: Sam has been invited to the party of a really old friend but she doesn’t know any of their other friends. She’s not very good at talking to new people and thinks ‘I can’t do this, I’ll make a fool of myself. What if no one talk to me? What if no one likes me?’ Her heart races, she gets hot and her breathing quickens. She thinks ‘I’m going to embarrass myself in front of everyone! This is going to be awful!’
So what can Sam do? Well this may sound strange but it could help her to think of the worst possible scenario in this situation. That way if she can imagine a way that she can cope with that eventuality then her perception of her ability to cope would increase and that would lower her anxiety. She can then say ‘X could happen and if it does I will do Y to deal with it’. If the worst thing that can happen is that she stands in a corner alone and no one speaks to her and she decides that if this happens she will tell her friend she has to be somewhere early in the morning and leave, then she has a plan of action and a way to cope and she really has nothing to fear.
What makes you most anxious? Think of how you could cope so you have less to fear.
5. Face it head on
A lot of our anxiety is the result of engaging in unhelpful thinking styles. One of the main contenders is PREDICTIVE THINKING. This is where we draw our own conclusions about what is going to happen and then, with no way of knowing if our predictions are correct or not, we allow our feelings and behaviour to be effected. For example, let’s say you have been invited to attend an event where the only person you’ll know is the host. You a think ‘I’ll be alone all night, no one will take to me, I’ll have a terrible time’ and so because of this prediction about the event you feel anxious and decided to stay at home instead.
Facing things head on means going along to the event to test out your prediction and see if it comes true. It might do. But you can prepare yourself by thinking about the worst that can happen and how can you deal with that. And who knows? Maybe your prediction is incorrect. Maybe till have a great time and meet some really interesting people!
The idea of facing anxieties on your own can be daunting and so perhaps you might want to think about enlisting some professional help.