Anxiety… what is it, and how do we create ways to ease its pain?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to fear, nervousness, apprehension and worrying. It is our body’s fight or flight reaction to the feeling of these fears. However, if we let anxiety become part of us it will affect how we feel and behave, and in turn, it manifests into real physical symptoms. Mild anxiety which many of us experience can be unsettling, while severe anxiety can become debilitating.
People often experience a general state of worry or fear before confronting something challenging such as a job interview, public speaking or a significant test. These feelings are easily justified and considered normal. Anxiety is considered a problem when symptoms interfere with our lives. When we find ourselves deciding what we do and where we go based on the level of anxiety we feel, it creates a life of doubt.
Reflect on the following questions:
- Do you find yourself judging the past, projecting into the future, or in a state of mistrust of yourself or others?
- Are you living in all moments except the present?
- Do you find yourself falling into a thinking trap of distorted thoughts that go around in circles?
- Are your thoughts irrational or are you jumping to conclusions?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions then you are suffering from cognitive distortions or irrational thoughts. It is these cognitive distortions or irrational thoughts that provide us
are rational reasons to why we fear what we fear. We must break through this debilitating mindset and find a way to re-program and channel our healthy, optimistic and truthful thoughts.
Understanding anxiety and what it is is the first step to finding freedom from its shackles. Discovering your triggers and getting ahead of them before the feeling of anxiety encompasses you is the key to the battle. Defining the cognitive distortions or automatic negative thoughts can allow us to recognize the pattern of thinking that the anxiety creates. In the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is said that our thoughts create feelings, and our feelings create behaviours. When we have the thoughts of what we fear, it triggers our anxiety – that feeling it creates is then provoked and it is then followed by the negative behaviour. We teach our brain that when these feelings arise we must do something so that they go away, with ‘avoidance’ being at the top of the list. We don’t like the “feeling” – thus every time we appease it we tell our brain this is the way to handle things. Every time we do this we only make our anxiety grow and solidify. The key is to reteach our brains to not go so easily into appeasing what we have taught it to do.
Dr. Joe Dispenza states that “when you begin to retrain your brain to fight against the anxiety and it feels strange and uncomfortable, that is a sign for you that it is working.” Pushing through what is uncomfortable helps change how we think. This theory is no different than when we decide to work out and we are sore… we need to keep going and work through the pain.
When we discover our triggers and work on proving to our brain that what we fear is irrational, we then can begin to feel peace amongst the thoughts that encompass us. We need to find the links between the feelings that cause you to create this anxiety. This will take work and self-talk. Fill up your toolbox with accessible tools so that when you are confronted with the anxiety you can grab the one that will help you battle these moments. Understand the difference between anxiety and ‘things we just don’t want to do.’ Empower yourself.
Try these following questions when you feel the anxiety. Use them to put perspective on the situation at hand. This is a small sample of questions; you can build on them and use the ones that resonate with you the best.
- Am I falling into a thinking trap? (For example – over-thinking, jumping to conclusions or over-estimating danger)
- What is the evidence that this thought is true? What is the evidence that this thought is not true?
- Is this thought irrational?
- Have I confused a thought with a fact?
- What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
- Am I 100% sure that ______ will happen?
- How many times has this happened before?
- What is the worst-case scenario?
- If it did happen, what can I do to cope with it or handle it?
- Is my judgment based on fact or how I feel?
- What is a more helpful thought?
I encourage you to try these self-talk tools and battle the thoughts / cognitive distortions that keep us trapped; you should always be aware you that these tools are always accessible. These questions are life-lines if you feel alone, frustrated or stuck. If you can learn to respond skillfully, you’re much more likely to keep a stressful thought from turning into a full-blown stressful story.
If you find yourself beyond the questioning stage, remember to breathe and be mindful of your surroundings. Take the time to look around and engage your five senses. Count 5 things, touch 4 things, hear 3 things, smell 2 things and taste 1 thing. This will bring down your blood pressure and take you out of your anxious mind… once this happens, try the questions again.
As well, a Thought Journal, which is an actual designed tool (many can be found on the internet), can be a concrete tool helpful to find a theme or pattern to begin changing your thoughts. If for some reason you don’t have your Thought Journal with you, then write your thoughts down, whether it is on a notepad, a napkin, or on your phone, and find an alternate thought to the same situation. You can always transfer your thoughts to your journal later to help keep consistency and to identify any trends.
I hope this article will help you begin your journey of healing. We all have the power within us… I hope this article helps you find yours.