Have you ever felt tightness in your chest or stomach, had difficulty breathing or just generally an uncomfortable kind of being “revved” up with no where to go? Excessive worry or “what if?” Concern about what people will think, how you will look, need to feel in control? Anxiety is a normal part of life and expresses itself in a multitude of ways, different for everyone. While we are all familiar with anxiety prior to an exam or meeting a new boss or date, it can also be in unexpected places and for no apparent reason.
So, what do we do about this? Anxiety doesn’t need to put a choke hold on your life preventing you from exploring new and exciting things, or even just having greater enjoyment from one’s normal daily activities. We might want to see how our thoughts are contributing to our worried feelings, how we might catastrophize about an outcome, think in a black and white way, “mind reading” what we think others are thinking about us. Identifying our way of thinking will allow us to look at what the truth actually is compared to some of these thoughts which leads to a more balanced view of our experience.
Noticing our breath or changing our breathing is another way to address the anxiety that can feel so uncomfortable. Deep, what we call “diaphragmatic” breathing, is always helpful just as taking a moment to just notice our breath can have a calming effect. They strategies move us out of our heads and those circling thoughts and connect us with our bodies.
Another approach, which actually might sound counterintuitive to some, is to stop trying to “manage” or “fight” these fears or worries or even panic, which can leave you feeling frustrated and powerless. Rather, step back, notice and accept these feelings and thoughts and just allow them to be there as they come and ultimately leave, like the waves we love to watch on the ocean. This more mindful approach to anxiety and acceptance of what we feel, who we are and what we experience ultimately allows is more freedom to be present with ourselves and those around us. Interestingly, this acceptance just seems to give us more room to be who we are and when we do, we actually might feel less anxious.
Whatever the approach, we cannot forget that anxiety is a part of life and if you feel you are suffering, you are not alone. We are not helpless either. We can exercise – I know, you want to roll your eyes, but do you have any idea what a wonderful mood manager regular exercise can be? So, with exercise, healthy eating, identification of negative thinking patterns, building a supportive life as well as building a life that fits with how you want it to be as well as increasing your capacity for acceptance and mindfulness and some of that suffering may well dissipate so that it doesn’t show up quite so much in your life.
Forsyth, John P. & Eifert, Georg H. (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. New York: New Harbinger
Paterson, Randy J. (2002). Your Depression Map. Oakland: New Harbinger