In a sense, anxiety is a future oriented way of preparing for something that we perceive might be detrimental to our well being. I might fail this test, I might not have enough money to do X, or is this soreness in my back something worse than just a muscle pull.
Anxiety in and of itself is not a bad thing, it motivates us to prepare and often helps us avoid a more unpleasant outcome. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no anxiety, most patients I work with describe their daily experience of anxiety as never really getting past a 3. Occasionally a little higher, but rare and they know it will pass.
Where we get into trouble is if the challenge does not pass, we experience a traumatic outcome and tie it to a situation (refer to past articles on bias) or see a similar set of circumstances that look like something we have experienced before that we do not wish to go thru again. We begin to fixate on it, think about it relentlessly and this type of approach begins to take its toll. Here are three quick things you can do to begin to lessen such an experience.
1. Check the Facts
Pulling from both cognitive therapy and dialectic behavioral therapy, take a moment to step back and notice if there is any evidence to support your thoughts on a subject. It is easy for a thought to become a narrative that is only partially true. In fact, if it is constant, we begin to look for facts to fit that narrative. By taking a step back and objectively looking at your thoughts and emotions, looking for all the facts, it then becomes possible to view your situation in a more complete fashion and see a solution that was there the whole time.
2. Is the thought or Action Beneficial?
Just this month I had a patient report back to me how she was thinking about a certain situation she was in. She reported that the way she snapped herself out of it was to focus on how there was nothing at this time she could do about it and that fixating on it would not contribute to making the situation any better. She was right, often there is no benefit to focusing on the negative, especially when in the middle of an activity, like taking a test or a job interview. All this will do is make your efforts less productive and less successful.
When you find yourself in such a situation, take a moment to ask yourself how your negative thought might help you gain better control of the situation. If you realize you should have, could have, but at this point it doesn’t matter, then try to let it go. This is the beauty of learning. When a new situation arises, you will have a better idea as how to prepare. For the moment though, let it go and do your best.
3. Be Present
Focus on your current situation. Pay attention to your breathe, your tongue on the roof of your mouth and just take just three seconds to ponder the following: Am I jumping to conclusions? Am I adding something here that is truly not happening? Am I taking this personally? Take an assessment of your current level of vulnerability, head ache, back tired, not enough sleep, dehydrated. All of these things can contribute to feeling more sensitive and make it much more difficult to keep control of your executive functions which then leads to faulty logic. Once you ground yourself, then use the previous two tools and look for an opening, something we often believe does not exist until we pause.
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