Shannon Schell, LMHC
3 Strategies for Managing Anxiety
Focusing on the mind
There's plenty of research out there focused on how to manage the symptoms of anxiety. You have increased your exercise, limited caffeine and alcohol intake, monitored your diet, and gotten plenty of rest. You are still feeling on edge, restless, and can't seem to stop the constant ruminating. Now what? Have you taken any steps towards monitoring your thoughts and self-talk? Today, I am blogging specifically about thought patterns and freeing up head space.
Those that struggle with anxiety may know how debilitating it can be at times. The rumination and overthinking can feel like your mind is in shackles. Some thoughts and concerns could include:
What if I make a mistake?
What if I fail?
What will others think of me?
What if I make the wrong decision?
What if I get fired?
What if my house catches on fire?
What if I get in a car accident?
What if my doctor tells me I have cancer?
Our minds can get so clouded with these thoughts that it can impact our functioning, mood, and productivity. I am writing today to provide some relief and share some strategies that can help for those that get stuck and paralyzed by excessive worrying.
Strategy #1: Identify negative thoughts and replace these thoughts with alternate ways of thinking. This is also called "cognitive restructuring." This term was coined by a psychologist named Albert Ellis in the mid-1950's. He believed that our thoughts are linked to our emotions and behaviors and by changing the way we think about what happens to us we can change the way we feel and act. Here's an example:
Situation: Co-workers go out to lunch and don't invite you to join along
Initial thought: They never ask me to do anything. No one likes me. No one wants me around.
Initial feelings: lonely, left out, isolated, alienated, upset
Alternative ways of thinking about what happened: Maybe they simply forgot to ask me. Maybe they assumed I was busy and wouldn't be able to join them.
Feelings after considering alternate thoughts: hopeful, forgiving, accepting, a little less upset than before
Reframing thoughts can be a challenging task that often requires a great amount of practice. The first step is being able to identify negative thoughts when they happen. A great way to keep track of the negative thoughts that occur in a day is to write them down in a journal. After writing them down, make a conscious effort to brainstorm alternative ways of thinking and replacing these thoughts. Perhaps you aren't sure where to start and need some help with this. A trained licensed therapist who utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) would be able to help. As a licensed therapist, I help many clients with identifying negative thoughts, challenging them, and replacing these thoughts with alternative ways of thinking about a distressing situation. Please feel free to contact me if you would like for me to partner with you and help you with negative thinking patterns.
Strategy #2: Develop a mantra.
Sometimes, we get so overwhelmed and bogged down in our worrying that our self-esteem and self-confidence starts to take a toll. We feel insecure and unsure of ourselves. We find ourselves reaching out to anyone who will listen and can give us constant reassurance. When we are constantly searching for reassurance from others, sometimes people will respond with criticism as well. Over time, this criticism can lead to self-doubt if you allow it to. You always get to decide how much you are going to let criticism affect you. Instead of focusing on searching for reassurance from outside sources we could instead focus on giving ourselves reassurance from within. We can do this by developing our own personalized mantra.
A true mantra consists of three brief positive statements. These statements must be believable and possible.
Some examples of the statements in your mantra may include:
I am loved despite the results.
I am strong.
I am competent.
I can handle any challenge that comes my way.
I am learning to love myself more every day.
Once you have you have developed your mantra, write it down and place it in a visible location where you will see it every day. Some examples include posting it near your work desk, on your refrigerator, or on your bathroom mirror. Practice repeating your mantra three times a day every single day. Consider making this a daily habit and making it as routine as brushing your teeth or brushing your hair every day. What you are doing here is you are training your brain to believe your mantra and own it. Our chances of success are much better if we can visualize ourselves succeeding. Our self-talk becomes our mental chatter and by focusing on repeating your mantra every day you will find that you do not need reassurance from others as frequently. The reassurance will come from within as a result of practicing your mantra every day.
Strategy #3: Focus on what you can control.
Yes, I am talking to all you people pleasers out there. Those of you that are consistently saying yes to things for fear of the other person not liking you, getting mad at you, or a more deep-rooted fear such as fear of abandonment. Over time, consistently saying yes to things that you really wanted to say no to could result in frustration, resentment, and unmet personal needs. We start to develop a habit of accommodating to others at the expense of our needs and desires. When these feelings remain unconscious, they may contribute to generalized anxiety. You may even start to believe you are responsible for others' emotions. You are NOT responsible for the words, feelings or actions of others. We do get to decide how we are going to respond to others. Through developing assertiveness, we become more self aware of our own needs as opposed to putting our energy and focus into meeting the needs of others. Essentially, if we take good care of ourselves, we have more to offer others. You will know you have developed an effective skill set of assertiveness when you know you have the right to ask for what you want. It is ok to say "no" when appropriate. It is ok to spend equal time on your own needs. It is ok to practice self-love and self-compassion. By focusing on what we can control, we are demonstrating self-respect. A helpful book for those who find themselves consistently accommodating to the needs of others at the expense of their own needs is Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. This book defines the concept of codependency and emphasizes the importance of practicing regular self-care.
The suggestions described above are just a few strategies that can help with managing anxiety.
Are you struggling with issues related to anxiety and depression? Are you overwhelmed by excessive worrying? If so, feel free to click here to send me a message if you would like to set up an appointment with me for counseling. You can also call me at (813)501-2703.
Shannon Schell, LMHC
Liberty Counseling Services, LLC