How to Cope with Anxiety
For the last couple of weeks, I have been discussing anxiety and worry. My blogs and Facebook Live’s (click if you want to follow me to see these live’s) have been focused on the symptoms of anxiety, the various diagnoses of anxiety and know how to cope with anxiety. So many people suffer from anxiety symptoms and often times feel all alone and at a loss with how to deal with it effectively. I am going to break down the various ways anxiety is primarily dealt with, along with skills and strategies for overcoming or managing the symptoms.
Many times people who suffer from anxiety report an overwhelming sense of worry and fear thoughts, which then can trigger or follow physical symptoms of anxiety (i.e. racing heart, sweats, feeling shaky or uneasy, etc). In order to cope with these thoughts of worry and fear, we need to learn how to gain control of our mind. This is certainly easier said than done. It would be wonderful if we could get an on/off switch implanted and simply push the button when it best suites us, but this can not be, so we need to find another way. This other way is typically found in the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, Mindfulness, relaxation techniques, prayer, established healthy habits, medication, etc.
Let me talk to you briefly about our mind and how it works (in a very general, nonscientific, simplistic way) to help gain a better understanding of how some of these coping strategies can work.
Let me ask you, did you shower today? And if you did, can you tell me in order what you washed, how to completed it and how long for? Now you might have some idea of an order in which you routinely wash yourself, however, I am willing to bet that you did not think about every step of the process while washing did you? You might have been more focused on the meeting you have at work today or the song you are so wonderfully singing in the shower or thinking about what you are going to eat for breakfast. Regardless of what was on your mind, I am willing to bet it was not: “ok, now I have to wash my arms, the front and back, now my hands, in-between each finger, next I need to wash my legs, front and back, now to my toes, in between each toe, etc.” NO! It is something we do automatically due to a routine so we do not have to consciously think about each move.
If that example did not resonate with you, how about this one: Driving. Do you remember when you first drove a car? Oh. My. Word! I still remember what it felt like to make my first turn and to stop and accelerate those first few times. If you were anything like me, you might have given your teacher whiplash and an adrenaline rush. When we first learn, we need to think about every. single. step. otherwise, we could end up in a ditch or t-boned with another car. Our brain had to consciously think of each step as we learned but now it is automatic. You are not thinking about every move and I am willing to bet you don't think too much about how to get home because it is something so familiar you don't need to put forth much brain power.
Well, the same is true with our thoughts. As we grow and mature, we take in the world and our surroundings and we make judgments about ourselves, others and the world. These judgments become beliefs. Once they are beliefs, then we do not need to think too hard about them because they are now ingrained in our mind and serve as the basis for which we perceive life. This is a wonderful way our brain works because it saves us a great deal of energy by storing this information in a way that allows us to know it and utilize it without having to think of every single step or belief. Life would be exhausting if we had to recount all our beliefs and each step of routine things such as showering, driving, etc. However, the downfall is when we have adopted false truths and negative beliefs about ourselves, others and life. This is where we can experience issues and anxiety can become an issue.
This method is very successful with treating anxiety and depression because it teaches people how to identify thoughts and eliminate or decrease the irrational and negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic and logical/positive thoughts. These techniques help people slow down the automatic flow of the mind so that you are able to “see” how these thoughts are there and affecting your behaviors and feelings. All too often we do not recognize some of the various irrational thoughts that run through our mind because they have been there so long we don't realize they are there forming beliefs that create or exacerbate the anxiety (and depression). The ways in which I help people do this is by giving various homework assignments that are brought into session to go over and process. Some homework assignments include:
- Thought record sheets: these help you track your feelings, situation, and thoughts in a specific way to help slow the automatic process down to facilitate the recognition of the thoughts that are occurring.
- Daily Activity sheets: these track what you are doing but also record your sleep and eating habits as well. It is important to understand how sleep and food affect your mood and thoughts.
- Thought chart: this is where I tell my clients to take their thoughts to court- show me proof for and against your thoughts. This helps clients gain perspective on the validity of their thoughts.
And the list can go on…but you can see where CBT takes you. You are taking a slo-mo video of your thought life to help see where you are going astray and how it can be affecting your anxiety.
This helps you learn what triggers your anxiety. I often have clients write in a journal when they’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
Many clients I see identify with the Christian faith and desire to utilize it in the counseling process. For these clients, we use CBT techniques but also incorporate Scripture into the process. Finding scriptures that speak to them for their individual needs and using that as the replaced thought is very helpful.
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares (anxieties) on Him because he cares for you.”
Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God.”
Praying and learning to hand over their worries and cares over to God is something we focus on as well. Making the prayer specific and narrowing down the vague and general anxiety into a focused and specific prayer request gives people the opportunity to see God work and to lighten the load of the burden anxiety brings. Again, easier said than done. Our mind is a powerful thing and it can be very difficult to gain control over it, nevertheless, it can be done with diligent effort and of course with the help and strength of God for those who believe.
So many times people find comfort in simple distraction. If they can distract themselves from their thoughts then they often find the anxiety will go away.
There are many ways you can distract yourself to take a time-out- a break from your routine:
- Practice yoga
- Listen to music
- Get a message
- Learn relaxation techniques.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
EATING AND SLEEPING HABITS
- Eat well-balanced meals
- Do not skip any meals
- Keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks on hand— no sugary processed snacks/foods
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health.
Of course, there is always medication for those who feel it is needed. There are various ones that can help with your symptoms. You would need to talk with your doctor about this. Prescribing medication is not in my job description.
I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or are looking for help to manage your anxiety, I am to assist you in any way I can! You are not alone if you are experiencing anxiety- so many millions of Americans suffer from anxiety- don't deal with it alone. Reach out and get help.