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That uncomfortable mixture of worry, dread, nervousness, inner turmoil, and anticipation — anxiety — is an "enemy" we all find ourselves battling at times. Ranging from intrusive thoughts that are directly related to an upcoming event to a constant companion, it can be hard to figure out if you suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder or are just responding normally to stressful life events. The line is not always clear. "Common, everyday anxiety" can indeed plague you to the point your muscles physically feel tense, you experience headaches, insomnia, fatigue, restlessness and unwelcome thoughts.
How do you seize control when you're feeling anxious?
Label That Feeling, And Let It In
What do you do when you slowly feel anxiety creeping up on you? Many people find it tempting to try send it packing, to pretend it isn't there, thinking their feelings aren't going to do anything to help them. Those people will generally find that a more suppressed, less obvious version of anxiety actually becomes more intrusive. Try being honest, and labeling that feeling: "I am feeling anxious."
Indeed, move a step beyond that and accept your anxiety. Give yourself the time and permission you need to think about how you are feeling and why. Some people find that just labeling the feelings they are experiencing and examining the underlying reasons is very helpful, while others prefer to journal their thoughts and feelings to get clearer insights. Talking to friends or your partner about what you are going through may also allow you to give your anxiety a place and to in turn let go of it.
Others suffering from anxiety may benefit from a technique used by chronic anxiety sufferers, something called "the paradox strategy". This paradox strategy goes a step further than acceptance, and extends to actually inviting the anxiety. First, concentrate on the physical and emotional symptoms you are burdened with. Take a deep breath, and commit to staying in the moment and not metaphorically running away from your feelings. Then, tell yourself you are going to take control of your anxiety by increasing the symptoms. Are you sweating, are you dizzy, or tense, or overwhelmed by intrusive anxious feelings? Tell your body you are ready for those symptoms!
A similar technique has you punching pillows, writing out all the worst things you can think of happening, and physically screaming. Neither of these techniques work for everyone, but many people find them extremely helpful.
Anxiety, while frequently triggered by very real events, tends to be the opposite of analytical thinking. It's essentially the process of being partially or almost fully overtaken by worries, often worries about things that are outside of your control. Therefore, some people find it helpful to ask themselves fact-based questions:
- What exactly is causing your feelings of anxiety?
- Are you assuming worst-case scenarios will play out? If so, what evidence is there that this may happen?
- Is there anything you can do to change the situation?
- Is your anxiety productive? Does it increase your ability to cope or is it in fact doing the very opposite?
Once you have done this and come up with answers, focus on those. You may, for instance, say to yourself: "I am feeling anxious because a lot is at stake right now. I have done everything I can to attempt to ensure a positive outcome. The anxiety I am feeling is normal, but I am going to lay it aside for now. Despite how I am feeling now, am am pretty satisfied with my life and have many great things to look forward to once this hurdle is out the way."
When doing this, it is important to stay realistic and not to get sucked in by negative thinking.