– by Debi Emmons, MFT –
You know that feeling…you’re sound asleep and all of a sudden, and for no known reason, you wake up. Suddenly, you start reviewing your day: Did I complete my to do list at work? Did I return that important phone call? How did the conversation with my boss really go? Before you know it, you have been worrying for quite some time as you lie there staring at the ceiling. Soon you start negotiating…if I can fall asleep now I will get four solid hours of sleep.
You’ve tried it all: Counting sheep, listening to music, writing down lists of things that worry you, and even resorting to watching Netflix to settle your anxious mind. Finally, you fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion only to wake to the sound of the alarm and the realization that you must start your day. Just that thought makes you start to feel nervous, nauseous and anticipating the worst – you are anxious and you haven’t even gotten out of bed! You wonder if you are going crazy.
Chances are you are not going crazy, but it’s likely that your body is sending you physical and psychological signals that it needs to slow down and pay attention to its needs. With the advent of technology, increased need to multitask and the addition of Grande-sized coffee drinks, it’s no wonder that anxiety has become a growing epidemic affecting approximately 18% of the nation’s population. Anxiety is the fear or worry about things that may happen to you now, or in the future. Some of the symptoms of anxiety are:
• Nervousness, restlessness or being tense
• Feelings of panic, fear or uneasiness
• Sleep problems
• Rapid heart rate
• Inability to focus
• Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
• Shortness of breath
• Feeling apprehensiveness or dread
• Anticipating the worst
If anxiety becomes excessive, all consuming or interferes with your daily living, it’s time to seek some professional help from a therapist or your doctor. However, for many people, some healthy additions and changes to your daily life can significantly improve your functioning and reduce the effects of anxiety. Learning new ways to manage your worry will have a direct effect on conquering your anxiety.
The first step is to identify negative self-talk that may be contributing to the anxiety or worry. What you say to yourself and about your anxiety can make you feel worse. Instead of beating yourself up, try reassuring yourself that you can rely on your strengths. Work on making positive and reassuring statements such as, “I can make it through this” or “I feel calm and at-ease.” This takes practice, so any time you find yourself overthinking redirect your thoughts with a positive, reassuring statement.
Reduce substances such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine as these can trigger and even worsen anxiety. Instead of grabbing that morning cup of Joe, try drinking decaffeinated coffee or, better yet, herbal tea. If you must have some caffeine try a cup of green tea. Green tea has 1/3 less caffeine than coffee, and has the added benefit of anti-oxidants and nutrients. Notice how you feel when you make this change, as it can be significant.
Take a deep, slow breath. When we become anxious, we tend to restrict our breathing and take shallow breaths. Instead start by breathing calmly. Close your eyes, breathe in deep and slow through your nose moving the air from your stomach up into your chest. When you have a full breath of air, hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Practice this several times until your body starts to relax. Deep breathing is a simple way to move from a Sympathetic (“fight or flight”) response to a Parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system response.
Exercise is an excellent way to increase endorphins the neurotransmitters that decrease anxiety and cause overall feelings of well-being. Exercise relaxes the mind and body and reduces the stress hormone called cortisol. Go for a brisk walk, jog, hike or swim. Be creative and have fun as just 20 minutes a day of exercise can significantly reduce anxiety and increase overall mood.
Remember your strengths and abilities. When feeling anxiety, we often overestimate the threat, and underestimate our ability to handle the threat. Write down your strengths and abilities. If this is difficult for you, engage a friend or family member to help. Notice how you have already survived many difficulties in life, and sometimes we just need to remember that. Have some fun with it, text yourself this list for those moments when you need to remember that you are going to be okay.
Journaling is a great way to explore your anxiety and the concerns that you have been carrying around. Taking a pen to paper is an excellent way to explore your day, write out a pro/con list that can help you identify new options or just write about your day. If you like more structure, journal prompts such as, “I remember a time when…” and completing the thought can help you get started.
Art is a great tool to manage anxiety and help distract your mind. It’s easy and can be done just about anywhere – grab some paper and doodle, paint or draw until your hearts content! Art helps to relax the mind and soul, direct energy into something creative and distract an overactive mind. Get colorful, you can’t do it wrong!
Remember you can reclaim your life and learn fun and helpful tools to lower your anxiety. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, you got this!
Debi Emmons, MA, MFT, is a licensed therapist with over 13 years experience counseling teens and adults in Sonoma County and helping them finding healthy and fun ways to recognize and manage their anxiety.