It’s perfectly normal to have worries or feelings of anxiety. People worry about their everyday lives, about what’s in the news, and about the world in general. It’s ok to feel anxious sometimes, but if worry and anxiety start to be excessive, these anxious thoughts can put a strain on your physical and emotional health. When you worry incessantly, spinning out into worst case scenarios, unable to stop anxious thoughts from rolling around in your mind, it can interfere with your daily life. What can you do? We have some suggestions to help you learn how to deal with anxiety.
Sometimes, the beliefs we have about worry cause us to worry more. Maybe you believe that you’re doing harm to your mental and physical health by worrying. This kind of negative belief about worry can add to your anxiety. However, positive beliefs about worry can worsen anxiety as well! If you believe you’re doing a good thing by worrying, either avoiding bad things, preventing problems, preparing for something that’s going to happen, or finding solutions, you’re likely to continue to worry.
The first step in learning how to calm anxiety is to recognize and understand it. Name the thing you’re worried about, and then decide how to proceed. You might discover that the best course of action is to simply accept your anxiety and allow yourself to go ahead and worry for a little while. When you are not fighting your anxiety, you may find that it’s easier to calm down. Create a worry period in your day, during which time you allow yourself to worry about whatever is on your mind. This time should be brief, maybe 20 minutes, and you can use it to write down your worries so that you can review and assess them during your next worry period.
Experience your thoughts as they happen, paying attention not so much to the content as to the type of thought you’re having, whether it’s worrying, judging, or criticizing. This can be a helpful strategy to employ when you want to learn how to calm an anxiety attack. By focusing on your mental processes instead of the literal content of your thoughts, you’ll be able to distance yourself from them a little bit and possibly find a better way to frame the situation.
Don’t criticize yourself for these thoughts and feelings, but rather identify that your body is responding to something stressful and it’s ok to feel anxious. Remind yourself that you can function very well even when you’re experiencing anxiety. It can also be helpful to remember that you are safe in the moment, even if anxiety is making you feel out of control. Once you’ve regained some calm, carefully consider your worries. Are your anxious thoughts helpful? If not, make the decision to let them go.
Challenge your thoughts by thinking about cognitive distortions you may be experiencing. These include:
- All or nothing thinking, in which there’s no middle ground and everything is black and white.
- Overgeneralization, expecting what you’ve taken from a negative experience to hold true for every experience.
- Noticing only the things that go wrong, while filtering out positive input.
- Coming up with reasons that positive things don’t count.
- Believing your own negative interpretation of events without evidence.
- Catastrophic thinking, believing the worst thing that can happen will happen.
- Focusing on a strict list of “shoulds and shouldn’ts” and being hard on yourself for breaking the rules.
- Applying labels to yourself based on what you perceive as your mistakes and shortcomings.
- Taking responsibility for things beyond your control.
Once you’ve got a clearer understanding of your own thoughts, you’ll be better equipped to know how to reduce anxiety. Ask yourself if the thoughts you’re having are true, or if there may be a more positive way to look at the situation. Think about the probability of your worry coming to pass, and consider how you’d advise a friend who was worried about this. Determine whether your worry is solvable or not. If it is, brainstorm ideas for solving it. If it isn’t, accept that life is uncertain and let it go.
Even though you may not be able to figure out how to get rid of anxiety completely, you can certainly employ some strategies to reduce it.
- Practice mindfulness. Observe your thoughts without reaction, thinking of them as clouds floating by you. Look for a way to disentangle yourself from them.
- Stay in the present. Rather than allowing your mind to regurgitate the past, focus on where you are right now. How have your coping skills evolved? Pay attention to this present moment, noticing how your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your emotions, and your thoughts. If you start to worry or fixate on one thought, bring your attention back to the moment.
- Broaden your view. Notice whether you’re focusing too narrowly on the negative aspects of a situation. Try to look at the big picture. Ask yourself if this will be important in five or ten years and if it won’t, let go of the worry.
- Redirect your nervous energy. Go for a walk, do a chore, or go outside, to burn off your anxious energy.
- Take a mental break. Set a timer for a few minutes and take a brief mental vacation, picturing yourself somewhere you feel peaceful, calm, and happy. Use a guided imagery app or simply daydream on your own.
- Practice deep breathing exercises to calm your mind and quiet your thoughts.
- Use a mantra. Repeat to yourself a word or phrase that will shift your mind away from anxious thoughts. An example is “this too shall pass.”
It can also help to talk to someone about your anxiety. You might find relief from sharing your worries with a trusted family member or friend who will listen without judgement. Focus on building a support system of people you can trust, or consider a support group. If your anxiety is constant or nearly constant or gets in the way of your daily life, or if you’re having panic attacks or anxiety about things that aren’t really threatening you, it may be time to seek a behavioral health specialist who can help. There are effective treatments available for anxiety, including psychotherapy and medication. Treatment doesn’t need to go on indefinitely, and some people find relief after as little as one session.
Whether you need a primary care physician or a behavioral health specialist to help you cope with anxious thoughts, Brevard Health Alliance, Inc. is here for you. Brevard County’s only Federally Qualified Health Center, BHA offers extensive health care services on a sliding-fee scale, so that we can treat residents regardless of their ability to pay. We’re committed to providing an extraordinary quality of care for our patients in order to improve the health status of Brevard County. Our focus is on continually improving the quality and efficiency of our care, and on ensuring that every patient we serve is heard, encouraged, and respected. As your family health care provider, we strive to provide not just acute care but also preventive care and health care related education. Our board certified physicians, advanced practice nurse practitioners, and physician assistance provide primary care that includes well child checkups, well woman care, and physicals, along with chronic disease management. In fact, since 2005 we’ve provided not only primary care services, but also behavioral health services, dental services, diagnostic services, resource management services, pharmacy services, women’s health care and obstetrics, Hepatitis C and HIV services, extended hours pediatric walk-in care, and specialty referrals. For more information, to find a location, or to make an appointment, contact us through our website.