Tools to Manage Anxiety in a Healthy Productive Way
It’s no secret the holidays can be a stressful time of the year… and after the year we had, the last thing we all need is more stress! As we approach the holiday season, we become overwhelmed with the planning, hosting, gift-giving and attending dinners and holiday parties. The mere thought of seeing extended family members can trigger old traumas and as a result, old behavior patterns can resurface. If you are disconnected from family and friends, the holidays are a difficult time of the year and often leave you feeling lonely and unable to truly appreciate the season. Whatever your struggle, please know that you are not alone.
We all experience anxiety, however, few of us are taught the tools to manage our anxiety in a healthy productive way. Did you know that anxiety can have a positive effect? It helps alert us to danger or motivates us to stay on task. However, people associate anxiety in a negative manner and describe feeling anxious without truly understanding what that means. Anxiety is when a person feels fearful and worries about things to a point that it interrupts their daily life. By understanding how anxiety affects the brain and learning how to navigate the anxiety roller coaster, you can better manage your mental health this season.
Thoughts are Powerful
It is believed that we have between 50,000-80,000 thoughts per day, most of which are subconscious and often self-defeating. One study shows that 80% of those thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. Put your brain under supervision. One way to manage anxiety is to have conscious, positive, self-affirming thoughts throughout your day. I will share the best tips and tricks on how to do this.
Thoughts, Feelings, Behaviors – A Powerful Connection
As a mental health therapist, I have always taken a cognitive behavioral approach to therapy – our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. Your thoughts whether conscious or unconscious, create feelings. Those feelings then determine how you behave and interact with the world around you. Anxiety takes over our mind and body and puts us in a state of alertness. We become hyper aware and seek out all possible dangers, which in turn creates “what-if” thinking. What if I burn the turkey? What if nobody likes the pie I baked? What if Aunt Karen brings up the fact that I lost my job last year? This leads you down a never-ending cycle. This inner self dialogue is often referred to as the ego and it leaves us feeling sad, overwhelmed and defeated. Once we feel this way we tend to shut down, isolate and avoid the people and places that can actually bring us joy.
Mind, Body, Spirit – The Ultimate Solution
What can we do to stop this vicious cycle? How do we quiet that ego? The answer is simple yet complicated – we connect to our spirit. Spiritual teachings often refer to your higher-self, coming from the light or love within you. That’s the place you need to connect to within yourself. For some people the higher self is associated with God or their religion, however, for others it is a connection to the universe, mother nature or what some call the “Source energy.” You do not need to be a religious person to connect to your spirit. Spirituality is about tapping into your soul, your intuitions, and your gut. This is your higher-self. We can find peace within our hearts no matter what the circumstances this holiday season may bring. Allow your spirit to lead the way and guide you to have a new corrective experience.
The first step is self-awareness. Listen to your thoughts. What are you telling yourself? What story are you playing in your mind from all the holidays past? What worst case scenario is coming to mind? Then, connect to your body. Where are you feeling the tension? Is there a pit in your stomach? Are you clenching your jaw? Experiencing a headache? Now, connect to your spirit, take a deep breath and change that thought. Release that tension. Send oxygen to that pit in your stomach. Relax your jaw.
When we are anxious we often hold our breath. It is so important to send oxygen to all the nerves in your body. On your exhale let it all go, sigh, release all that doesn’t serve you. Then create a new story line. Take a moment to be grateful for something. Say, “I am safe” and breathe. Tap into your senses and bring yourself back to the present moment.
It is in creating this new voice that you begin to build a relationship with our spirit. When we can quiet all the noise around us, we can then hear what our intuitions, our souls and our hearts are telling us. That is the place you need to connect to this holiday season. It is in that place within you that you can enjoy life and the blessings that surround you. I often use gratitude to connect to my spirit.
Whenever I am feeling anxious I ask myself what do I need in this moment? Is it calm? Is it patience? Is it forgiveness? I then take a deep breath and say, “I am grateful for calm, I am grateful for patience, I am grateful for forgiveness,” and continue the list with whatever comes to mind. Another coping skill includes listening to a guided meditation, which you can easily find online.
Set an Intention
You can also set an intention. For example, before going into the store to buy a gift, take a deep breath and ask yourself what kind of experience do I want to have? Why am I buying this gift? Say, “My intention is to buy a thoughtful gift to express my love for my friend. I intend to be thought and patient throughout this time in the store.” Then walk into the store with this mind set allowing yourself to take a step back. We often live on autopilot. Rushing and busy trying to control everything around us that we spend our time reacting to everything that is happening instead of taking time to sit and clear our minds so we can lead from a place of love. Love for ourselves and love for others.
It’s also important to understand – you always get to choose again. When you find yourself over-thinking you can stop and decide to change your perspective. Your initial reaction may be to go back to those old thought patterns, but by doing this you are allowing your subconscious mind, reactive behavior – your ego-to be in control. When you can take a minute to recenter yourself and breathe, you can then respond in a more positive productive way – from your spirit. It is only then that you can come from a place of clarity, avoid conflict and reduce your anxiety. This will also help improve your overall self-esteem and self-worth.
“I Am” Statements
Another powerful tool is making “I Am” statements. Through the works of Dr. Wayne Dyer, I have truly gained an understanding of the power of making “I Am” statements, and essentially that anything you say after “I AM,” is! Think about how many negative “I Am” statements we make without even thinking. We have no problem saying “I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m fat, I’m so stupid” or whatever other terrible things we can come up with, but how often do we say, “I Am healthy” “I Am happy” or “I Am calm.”
For this holiday season, turn your thoughts into a positive “I Am” statement. For example, when I am feeling tired and still have a ton of things to do I will say “I Am Full of Energy.” This sends a message to my brain that I am full of energy. Your brain does not know when you are lying, you can easily trick your brain into believing things especially over time.
Remember, your thoughts create your feelings. Here are some more examples: I Am Happy, I Am Full of Love, I Am Brave, I Am Safe, I Am A Good Friend, I Am Kind, I Am Talented, I Am Helpful.
Lastly, it is important to have a positive affirmation available to yourself at all times. Affirmations are short positive phrases that you say to yourself and when repeated, especially daily, can have a powerful impact on your mood and thought patterns. Throughout this pandemic, dealing with the stress we are currently living through I have repeated, “We are all just doing the best we can.” This has helped me to forgive and not judge others. Think of an affirmation that will help you. I have also used, “You got this” or “Just do it” when I found myself experiencing self-doubt and procrastination.
Reach Out for Help
As the year comes to an end I encourage you to do some self-reflection. Set personal goals and challenge yourself to make new connections with people. Struggling with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety can often leave us isolated from our communities, family and friends. I encourage you to reach out for help to begin the journey to healing and becoming your best self. May the rest of 2020 be filled with peace, love and acceptance and may 2021 be a fresh beginning towards healing, learning and moving out of those old comfort zones to grow and flourish in the new year.