I had a couple of therapy sessions last week with clients who were having very stressful weeks and asking for tools to work with anxiety between sessions. This gave me the opportunity to think about some of my favorite “anxiety busting” tools, and here is my opportunity for me to share them with you.
It’s easy to get caught up in scary thoughts about the future. “What if this or that terrible thing happens?” Our brains can’t really distinguish between our imagination and reality. So when we get caught in these mental loops, our brains respond by kicking into the fight or flight emotional system: racing thoughts, dry mouth, heart beating rapidly, muscles tensing, etc. These sensations of “fight or flight” in our body can feed into even more scary thoughts. “The threat must be real if my body is reacting this way!” We’re caught in a loop!
Stepping out of the mental loop can help. We can learn to look at the thoughts rather than from the thoughts:
(1) Notice the thoughts you are having as thoughts. “I’m afraid x will happen! What if y happens!” Try adding this prefix to the scary thought, “I notice I am having the thought___________.” Notice if it feels any different.
(2) Sing your anxious thought out loud to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
(3) Imagine your anxious thought on a computer screen. Imagine your head stuck inside the screen. Now imagine pulling your head out and just noticing the thoughts as words on the screen.
(3) Ask yourself how good you really are at predicting the future. If you’re like most of us, you’re not a very good psychic. Bring yourself back to the present moment, and to what is happening right here and right now. Accept the fact that you can’t really know what the future will bring.
Emotional Regulation Skills
If the parenting you received as a child was not great, you may have never learned how to adequately regulate your own emotions. Here are some great tools for learning to regulate distressing emotions like fear, anxiety, and anger. Emotions are there for a purpose. They evolved in our brains help us respond to situations, and to communicate to others what is going on with us. However they are not facts. Feeling a certain way doesn’t make it true (“I feel embarrassed, so I must be an idiot.”)
Self Validation: Accept the fact that you are having this distressing emotion, and it makes sense. Don’t criticize or judge yourself for simply feeling what you are feeling. What you are feeling is understandable. “Many people in this situation would feel this way. It makes sense that I feel this way now.”
Radical Acceptance; Accept the fact that reality is what it is. Whether you like it or not, the facts of the situation are what the facts of the situation are. Turn your mind towards being willing to accept the things that you cannot change.
Self Acceptance: Accept that fact that you are a human being with strengths and weaknesses. Accept the fact that you can learn and grow, but you will never be perfect. Mistakes are part of life. You can only do your best.
Don’t Pour Kerosene on the Fire: Judgments of ourselves and others can help our internal distress to grow and grow. Making judgments is a choice. If you find yourself caught in judgments of yourself or someone else:
- Focus on the inherent worth of the person, whether it is yourself or someone else.
- Observe what is happening.
- Describe what is happening objectively and non-judgmentally to yourself. Stick to the objective facts. You can include the fact that you don’t like it.