According to the Oxford dictionary, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
The key word there for me is uncertain as uncertainty is probably one of my biggest fears. I don’t like the unknown however for some, it can be thrived upon and seen as a challenge of what could unfold. But for me, I think the lack of control over what is happening is what freaks me out. I frequently have to remind myself that I can’t control the uncontrollable.
One of the biggest things here is knowing that you can’t control everything, especially not what is going to happen in the future. But if we are aligning ourselves with our values and goals then we will make the right decisions to make us happy. That is what we have control over and common sense says that life should then be okay. Right?
You’re not going to master the rest of your life in one day. Just relax.
Master the day. Then just keep doing that every day.
So how do we prevent that uneasiness from taking over? In December 2017 the NHS reported that over 1.4 million people were referred for treatment of depression and anxiety which goes to show how this is more common than we think.
Strategies to help reduce this are now widely discussed and this article by WebMD provides some helpful tips to prevent the thoughts from taking over the present moment. And let’s face it, at some point in our lives we have all felt anxious and nervous about something.
One of my favourite techniques for dealing with these feelings can be applied to any situation. Breaking down the problem into how it makes you feel and why can help bring you back into the moment and prevent your mind from running away in its thoughts. This is by no means a cure for anxiety and I urge anyone really suffering to seek medical support.
You may want to grab a pen and piece of paper to write down some of the thoughts and feelings you have pertaining to what is making you feel anxious. It helps to see it written down.
What is the trigger which has made you feel sick, scared, worried and anxious? It could be anything from seeing an ex to not having a job or feeling stuck in a situation you don’t know how to escape from. Whatever it is, note down the trigger for a moment.
Then think about what the trigger conjures up? A million and one thoughts will be crowding your mind, the negative intrusions such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, images or memories. How does it make you feel? Angry, sad, regretful, hurt? Make a note of this.
What does the anger, sadness, regret and hurt mean to you? Using a breakup of a relationship as an example it could be that you don’t feel good enough or even feel angry for not sticking up for yourself in certain instances. How this makes you feel is literally just that, a feeling. If you think of whether that feeling was actually true, you would be in a very different place. So in this example, are you really, actually not good enough or are you just feeling it? These feelings show us our fears, our worst-case scenario. They are negative emotions and what happens is we don’t really address our fears, we are too busy thinking of the trigger itself and getting ourselves embroiled in the panic that we don’t think of that. So what do we do in order to try to fix ourselves and feel better?…
We do a number of things, they can range from looking for a distraction, keeping busy, almost avoiding. Or maybe remembering the bad stuff in order to cope or even self-loathing, self-blame or questioning ourselves as to why we didn’t do XYZ or why we didn’t act sooner. Whatever it is, none of this works. Why? Because we aren’t addressing our actual fear, we are too busy trying to address the original trigger so we stay in this constant loop where nothing is resolved and the anxiety levels rise.
When the panic happens, remember you have been triggered. You have seen, thought or been reminded of something. Think of it as being activated, you have been triggered. Your thoughts will be crashing in and your mind is transporting you to a completely different place. This then triggers your fears, your worst-case scenario. Instead of trying to address the trigger in the usual behaviours of research and reading up on how to deal with things, self-loathing and trying to keep busy, give this three-step approach a go to help bring you back into the moment:
- Remind yourself you have been activated, by a memory, thought or something you have seen (e.g. a friend has a new job and you are still waiting for that breakthrough, a painful memory of an ex – it really can be anything).
- Think back to the feelings and fears this creates, your worst-case scenario – your absolute point of no return where everything is dreadful and you can’t recover from it.
- Think of where you are at that precise moment, walking to work, sat on a train, in a restaurant, in bed or even sat on the toilet. It really doesn’t matter. At that very precise moment ask yourself are you really in your worst-case scenario? Using the example above, are you really not good enough? Are you really at that point of no return where everything is dreadful? The answer will be no. And what will happen? Your shoulders will drop, you will relax. You are safe.
And if you need to, repeat these steps as often as you like.
I learnt this technique from a very special lady, it has helped me through anxious times and if I can pay it forward for anyone else who may need a helping hand, I hope it helps.
So for anyone feeling anxious right now, keep walking through the storm, your rainbow is waiting on the other side.
By Nicci McShane