I struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, not on a daily basis anymore, but it does sneak up on me depending on how much seems to be stalled in my life, giving me lots to worry about if I so choose. I’m well aware that nothing is ever stalled. It just seems that way. But for a person living with anxiety, it can take the occurrence of only one or two small things that remind us we are not in control, to kick start the feelings of anxiousness and worry into high gear. Normal situations that millions of people deal with every day can suddenly turn into problems the anxiety-ridden believe are or potentially could be monumental disasters.
Underneath all anxiety is fear. For the griever suffering anxiety, a condition that can be experienced after difficult and sudden loss, losing control of any one area of their life can present an extreme element of danger. In a state of anxiousness, the mind remains hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for more disaster. The suicide of my daughter in 2005 traumatized me and caused me to experience heightened anxiety – a condition I have not easily been able to overcome.
It can be challenging to re-program the brain that looks only for the danger in everything, to mimic the healthy emotional brain that can do its job quietly in the background, through filters that work properly to ensure our protection against real danger (amongst other things). What a miracle it would be to be able to switch to this healthier approach to the world, but alas, it is not that easy. There is a biological component to a brain that suffers trauma, where in my view, much of our anxiety comes from. For more on how the brain works in trauma check out the work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.
While there is great information and therapy techniques presented in The Worry Trap by Chad LeJeune and The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, additionally, I have a few techniques of my own that I regularly practice to reduce acute anxiety related to a specific situation and to manage anxiety in general. Some or all of these may be helpful to you too:
1. Talk to a trusted partner, family member or friend who is aware of your anxiety about how you are feeling and how any problem appears to you. Ask them outright if what you are thinking seems rational to them (likely it won’t). Let them help you see things from their point of view, which can help to reassure you that what you think is happening or will happen, likely won’t. I share what I am experiencing and thinking in my anxiety with my family all of the time. As a result, they help me recenter my thoughts by viewing the situation and perceived problems in a more rational way, which helps to greatly reduce my worry and anxiety.
2. Don’t feel you have to micro-manage (mentally or otherwise) anyone involved in the situation causing you anxiety. Let the people who have a role to play in fixing a problem or meeting your needs (such as providing you with timely information, showing up for a delivery or service repair call, fixing your car), do their job. By not understanding anxiety to the degree I do now, I can’t tell you how many times throughout my grief I tried or wanted to control people and situations that weren’t even remotely in my realm to control, especially when I felt things weren’t happening fast enough. Once I understood the ramifications of anxiety on my entire being, not only did it feel incredibly freeing to no longer have to micro-manage everyone involved in my life (which is how it feels to give up worry that is a large part of anxiety), but I also became physically healthier. A win-win for all.
3. When you are in the height of feeling anxious, breathe. Relax. Listen to a calming meditation or gentle music. Go for a walk, exercise or embark on another outing to clear your mind.
4. Repeat to yourself frequently that there is nothing to worry about. Remind yourself often that everything is going to be okay, because it will be. You can handle anything that comes up because there is a solution for all problems.
5. Remind yourself often that with regard to most things in your daily life that are causing you to feel anxious, nothing is ever as bad as you think.
6. If you have multiple worries that are causing you anxiety, make a list of everything you are worried about or imagine could happen. Tick them off one by one as the issue is resolved or your concern fades away.