We all experience anxiety. It is a survival instinct which we can thank for many helpful adaptations. However, many of us know the experience of living with high anxiety and the toll it takes on our everyday functioning. I find that many of my clients benefit from making the distinction between various experiences of anxiety. We can have thoughts that cause anxious feelings, and then we can have thoughts that are a product of our body being anxious. Figuring all of this out can be a chicken/egg (which came first) sort of exercise at times because the mind/body anxiety experience can become a cycle. The body is responding to the mind, and the mind is responding to the body. Around and around we go in our anxiety. The good news about a cycle is that we can stop it from any point, and we can chose if we want to start working with the body or if we want to start by working with the mind. Here are a few tips to help you determine how you might want to begin working with your anxiety:
-Observe what thoughts and triggers (places, people, subjects) increase your anxiety.
-Identify positive, calming, and affirming thoughts, statements, and images which will help decrease your anxiety.
-Develop practices such as journaling, creating lists, or meditation which help us process our anxious thoughts.
-Observe how you experience anxiety in your body (temperature changes, tension, appetite changes, breathing, heart-rate, etc.) and observe possible triggers (time of day, topics, places).
-Identify foods and drinks which might be activating your anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
-Identify healthy activities which decrease anxiety such as exercise, yoga, playing music, or drawing.
-Develop routines which incorporate these calming body activities.
Training ourselves out of anxiety takes hard work. Just as if we were training our mind for a spelling-bee or our body for a marathon, we have to work and practice if we want to see results. Some of us can train on our own, and some of us need the support of a trainer. With anxiety, a trainer is a counselor/therapist that you work with regularly to make progress toward your goal of reducing your anxiety. In order to reduce our anxious mind or our anxious body we have to take steps toward more relaxing and positive ways of living.
Katie Larson, MFTC
Marriage and Family Therapist