This article is by Australia Counselling member Lauren Sokolski.
There are times when we all feel anxious. For example, starting something new, like school or a job, often makes people anxious. You don’t know exactly what to expect and may be anxious about how you will perform or come across to your peers and colleagues.
Notice your anxiety
When you start to feel anxious, try to notice where in your body you’re feeling the anxiety. For some people, they get ‘butterflies’ in their stomach, others feel a tightness in their chest. Some people feel restless, like they can’t sit still.
The most common reaction when you feel anxious is to try to stop yourself feeling this way. This makes a lot of sense because nobody enjoys feeling anxious:
You pretend that you’re not really feeling the way you are feeling.
You distract yourself by doing something to take your mind off your anxiety.
You tell yourself that this is just stupid, you shouldn’t be feeling like this and to get a grip.
Anxiety is persistent!
What you probably notice is that none of this really works. In fact, the more you try to ignore or pretend that you aren’t feeling anxious, the more the anxiety persists. How successful are you at putting an end to your anxiety? It is a really hard thing to achieve because anxious feelings are persistent and don’t go away easily.
Make friends with your anxiety
I’m going to suggest you try something you probably haven’t thought of before: rather than trying to get rid of your anxious feelings, I’m suggesting you try making friends with your anxiety instead. You are probably wondering how you can do this without having the anxiety overtake you.
This is the main fear that people have: if you pay attention to your anxious feelings and get to know them better won’t they just get bigger and bigger and take you over completely? In fact, the opposite is true. It may be hard to imagine, but when you don’t fight against your anxiety, it actually becomes more manageable.
So the next time you’re feeling anxious, try this:
1. Take 10 deep breaths slowly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
2. Notice where in your body you are feeling the most anxiety. Pay attention to what is happening to you physically.
3. Now notice what it is you are telling yourself. It is probably something like “Oh no. Not this again. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be normal like everybody else? Why can’t I control how I feel? Why doesn’t it just go away? If I don’t do something about it quickly, it is just going to get worse…” Get the idea? It is amazing how many negative messages your brain sends you in the space of a minute. Some people don’t even notice that they are having this internal conversation.
4. Once you become aware of your anxiety, even if you don’t notice the negative dialogue that is going on inside your head, try telling yourself: “It’s okay. I’m just feeling anxious right now or I’m having an anxious day today. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. It’s okay for me to be anxious.”
If you can do this, you’ve taken the first step towards making friends with your anxiety. You’ve started on the road to accepting that you get anxious without making yourself wrong for feeling this way.
It can be useful to notice when you start feeling anxious: does it happen when you’re around certain people or in certain situations? Is there anything you can pinpoint as a trigger? If you are able to identify anything, then this is a good place to start exploring your anxious reactions.
Taking back control
However, many people are unable to pinpoint anything specific as a trigger to their anxious feelings. It is more like an all-pervasive feeling that doesn’t seem to have a beginning or end. In this case, learning strategies to manage your feelings is really important so that you can begin to take back control of your life, rather than anxiety taking control of you.
Some final tips for managing your anxiety
So remember, try to accept your anxious feelings by acknowledging that they exist, even though you don’t like them.
Tell yourself it’s okay to feel anxious. By doing this, you actually make some ‘psychological’ space for your anxious feelings to change.
And notice how the intensity of your anxious feelings changes. You will hopefully be surprised and heartened by the decreased intensity of your anxious feelings.
You are on your way to taking back control of yourself.
Lauren Sokolski is a Melbourne relationships counsellor and the owner of www.laurensokolski.com.au