According to a recent study, nearly 70% of workers feel more stressed during COVID-19 than at any other point in their professional career. Whether you’ve struggled with anxiety your entire life, or are experiencing it for the first time, working with a therapist is a great way to learn how to manage stress productively. Below are some strategies that your therapist might help you build and hone. When practiced regularly, these skills can become a portable resource to address a wide range of problems and emotions outside of sessions.
Develop a Mindfulness Practice to Reduce Anxiety
Mindfulness is the practice of learning to purposefully direct your attention to the present moment without judgement. Most of us exert substantial mental energy ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. We are also prone to judging the present moment by comparing our experience to others, questioning how others perceive us, or wondering if we are “doing things right.” Engaging in this mental time travel and comparing our experience to others increases suffering, whereas focusing on the here and now alleviates anxiety. Exploring the present through mindfulness reduces the amount of negative or anxiety provoking thoughts in your brain. No matter what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow, this moment…right here…right now..is bearable. It is also the only way for us to take control of our emotions and problems. By observing and labeling whatever thoughts and feelings come up, we can choose which are the healthiest for us to focus our attention on.
Remember To Check The Facts
It is widely understood that most of us are not mind readers, nor are we fortune tellers. Regardless of reality, we often assume we know what others are thinking or predict our future. Since our perceptions are often colored by negative judgments, anxiety flourishes through our faulty beliefs. Using the simple tool of “checking the facts” can help center us and clarify our thoughts. Whenever you feel anxious, remember to pause, take a step back, and check the facts of the situation. Ask yourself, “Is the way that I am feeling and thinking about a situation based on the facts or are my emotions out of proportion to the situation?” What interpretations and assumptions am I making about the situation? Do they fit the facts, or am I being overly judgmental?” Through this self-inquiry, we can realize that there may be little to no evidence for our anxiety. Even if we do not know the facts, we can see that oftentimes our minds fill in the blanks of what we don’t actually know with a worse case scenario. So, often, our fears are of our own making. Checking the facts is a useful way to release us from our own destructive thought patterns and negative assumptions.
Change Your Body Temperature
Sometimes our anxiety manifests itself through bodily sensations. When we become too overwhelmed by anxious thoughts, our bodies instinctively go into “fight-or-flight” mode. This is our nervous system signaling us that there is a perceived threat to our physical safety. The keyword here is “ perceived.” These physical signals are important when we are fleeing a deadly predator or a perilous physical challenge. Unfortunately, our biology is geared to send us into an unnecessary state of panic, otherwise known as a panic attack.
This is particularly counterproductive, as solutions to many modern day problems are better found using critical thinking skills and with a calm body. Changing your body chemistry can help reduce the physical effects of anxiety. The TIPP skill, which stands for (temperature, intense exercise, paced breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation,) is an extremely effective way to combat the body’s fight or flight response. When physical arousal is reduced, emotional arousal often is too.
Practice Accepting Your Anxiety
When you experience anxiety on a regular basis, the healing process is more about learning to cope with the anxiety rather than completely eradicating it. We can’t control what we think or feel, but we can control how we respond to those thoughts and feelings. Telling yourself to “stop being anxious” is like telling yourself not to think about the elephant in the room. Fighting against the presence of your anxiety, will only make it louder and more pronounced.
Instead, try accepting your anxiety as an experience rather than something you need to grab control over immediately. Emotions can certainly be uncomfortable, but thankfully are not inherently dangerous. When you feel anxious, notice where in your body you are experiencing the anxiety and say to yourself “ I am having an anxious feeling”. Then see if you can observe the worries or concerns in your mind and say “I am having anxious thoughts.” By labeling your thoughts, you can create distance from or space around them and better understand them as experiences. Anxious thoughts, happy thoughts, sad thoughts…they are all experiences you can acknowledge, accept, and with time say good-bye to as they go their way, like clouds passing in the sky.
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