Anxiety is that experience we have when we must do something that scares us, when we worry about something bad happening, and when as a result, we feel our body in knots. But contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not necessarily bad for you.
Think of anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being nearly no anxiety (something we might experience when we are in a completely zen state or even in peaceful sleep) and 10 being in the midst of a panic attack. If 5 is the midpoint, anything below that number can be considered a motivating factor. If we had no anxiety at all, we might be tempted to stay in bed rather than go to work. Who needs to worry about responsibilities when they can enjoy themselves? So anxiety, in low doses helps motivate us to do the things we need to do like getting to appointments on time.
It is when it anxiety goes above the midpoint that we start to see a decline in functioning or significant distress. These actually impede our ability to function and do what it is we need to do.
We feel anxious when we interpret our circumstances as threats, especially when we don’t believe we can adequately cope. This usually includes a belief that something bad is going to happen and incorporates a lot of #WhatIfThinking. What If I miss my flight? What if I get lost? What if I show up and don’t know anyone? Our brain and body prepare us for facing a life threatening situation when in fact we are just going to a social event. Overkill, right?
When we create these movies in our mind, actually seeing ourselves missing our flight and being late to our meeting, we don’t notice the physiological manifestations of our anxiety in the body. But when we do notice them suddenly, we get anxious about that and sometimes catastrophize in our mind, which only increases our panic.
Let’s take a look at 3 approaches for effectively dealing with anxiety.
From a Behavioral Perspective
We all get anxious sometimes. In fact, anxiety is a basic emotion that is intended to keep us safe when our survival is on the life. It activates our fight, flight, or freeze mechanism. It is when our survival isn’t on the line and we believe that it is (due to our own catastrophizing) that we get into trouble. By focusing on the problem, we remain stuck. Instead, we need to focus on a solution. Anticipate the worst case scenario and plan what you would do. If you are prepared for the worst, you can handle anything less.
From a Cognitive Perspective
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we use the 3 Cs technique to help us deal with our thoughts:
Step 1: Catch it. What are you thinking about?
Step 2: Check it. Is it helpful? Is it accurate? If not, go to Step 3.
Step 3: Change it. Change your thought to a thought that is more helpful (makes you feel how you would prefer to feel) and accurate (rather than based on false information your mind makes up).
From a Physiological Perspective
In addition to dealing with anxiety in your mind, let’s consider how you manage it in your body.
Anxiety is associated with several physiological responses, depending on how intensely you feel the emotion. Panic is the epitome of anxiety and it can include a pounding heartbeat, sweating, shaking, dizziness, feeling out of your body, or nausea. If anxiety is an emotion you struggle with often, build up your immunity in advance. Practice #relaxation every day to ensure you are prepared for dealing with stressful situations as they arise. Grounding is a particularly great way to immediately shift the energy in your body when you are feeling anxious. There are many ways to ground including walking in nature, lying on the ground, and standing with two feet firmly on the ground and imagining you are a tree sending roots into the earth.
By tackling your anxiety from various angles, you will be better prepared to manage it when it arises. This will give you the proper balance to keep you calm, motivated, and focused on what matters so you can get through your day with ease and peace of mind.