“Our anxiety doesn't come from thinking about our future, but from wanting to control it." - K. Gibran
Do you have feelings of being overwhelmed? Do you overthink everything? Do you play out worst case scenarios in your mind? Anxiety is real and it stems from our thoughts, which then makes us feel anxiety in our body. Our heart races, we may sweat profusely, shake, stutter or even get a dry month and not be able to speak. Anxiety affects our sleep, energy levels and our relationships. It can also motivate us to face our fears, by enlisting our fight or flight responses. So having anxiety is not a problem. Having too much anxiety and not being able to function, that is a problem.
We all have anxiety. On the one hand, a healthy amount of anxiety may give us butterflies in our stomach before a presentation, we may even feel nervous or unsure of ourselves. An unhealthy amount of anxiety is when we let the voice in our head play out worst case scenarios, like falling off stage, or imagining that everyone is laughing at you. That can create debilitating anxiety. It’s like anything in life; small doses of anxiety keep us lucid and functioning. I’ve also known happy, well-adjusted people had situational worries. They are only thoughts and a thought can be changed! There are certainly levels of anxiety that range from subtle to extreme. All anxiety is real, and it can be managed with awareness and support.
The difficulty with anxiety is that we can give it more power than it actually has over us. We often don’t recognize the influence we allow anxiety to have on our lives. There are people with diagnosed anxiety disorders, and they take medication to manage the sense of being overwhelmed. I’d like to offer that in addition to medication, there are other methods of learning to live with and manage this condition.
What can you do to manage your anxiety?
1. Exercise: Whenever I feel anxious, I go for a walk, or participate in an exercise class. Being active enhances cognitive function and aerobic exercise decreases tension while uplifting our mood. Studies show one rigorous exercise session (at least 20 to 45 min), can reduce anxiety for several hours.
2. Stay Present: So much of anxiety has to do with worrying about what hasn’t happened yet, or what may never happen. The future as they say is a mystery and if we can be present and handle each day as it comes, that will keep your mind from veering off into the unknown.
2. Journal: When your mind is overwhelmed with thoughts, the act of writing the thoughts down is a productive way to clear the clutter of the mind. The cathartic act of putting pen to paper is not only rewarding, it relieves you of anxiety.
3. Breath deeply: When we are anxious our heart rate and breathing increases, putting us at risk for health concerns. Simply slowing down your breath will not only calm the body, it will also quiet the mind because now your brain is thinking about breathing. Tell yourself to inhale for a slow count of four and exhale for the same count. After 5 to 10 minutes your mind eases and will feel calmer. The act of counting and breathing gives your mind a distraction from your worries. This is meditation.
4. Acceptance: Noticing when you become stressed will help you become aware of triggers. Get curious. When you began feeling anxious, what was happening? Once you begin noticing and accepting, you will catch yourself becoming anxious before it happens. Part of our stress is noticing and then we can make the shift to move toward calm and away from worry.