Anxiety is our body’s way of telling us that we’re taking on too much stress. There are two types of stress: healthy stress and unhealthy stress. I know what you might be thinking… What is healthy stress? Healthy stress is what you experience when something good is about to happen (e.g., new job, new addition to the family, or moving to a new place). Unhealthy stress is when you are facing negative circumstances (e.g., loss of a job, loved one, or relationship). Everyone handles positive and negative stress differently. And yes, for some, positive stress can lead to a negative response to stress, depending on the situation. It’s important to recognize when feelings of anxiety are becoming too much to manage. Here are signs that you may be dealing with anxiety, and some helpful techniques to help you function through the tough moments.
When I meet different people who struggle with anxiety, I often hear things like, “I worry about everything” or “I’ve always been a worrier”. It’s important to remind yourself of what you can control. The reality of this is, you can only control you. You have no control over anyone else’s thoughts or behaviors, or what could happen tomorrow. So think about what you can do to focus, and give your attention to what can be managed at this present time. If you have done what you can do, it is time to wait. Find a way to enjoy the moment, and do something that helps you feel relaxed. Cues deep breathing exercise in 1…2…3
Feeling like you don’t have time for yourself
Making time for yourself is one of the most important things you can ever do in this life. It’s easy to neglect yourself when “there’s so much to do”. However, I can guarantee that there will always be something to do. If one of those things on your to-do list doesn’t include time away from the busy life, your health will be negatively impacted in several ways: 1) You’ll be more susceptible to illness due to a weakened immune system; 2) You can become vulnerable to forming patterns of negative thinking that give way to depression; and 3) Long-term stress is linked to weight problems and cardiovascular issues. That escalated quickly didn’t it? Mmhmm…
You’ve heard the phrase, “people make time for what they want”… Well, it’s true. Now, it’s up to you to make time, and give yourself attention. Here’s one way to this: Look at your calendar and look at where you can put “ME TIME” in your schedule. “Me time” can be whatever it is that you want it to be: 5 minutes to do breathing exercises or a guided meditation, exercising, or actually leaving your office for lunch. Whatever it is, do this consistently. Your body will thank you, and hopefully you can thank you later for making _____ (insert your name) a priority.
Frequently feeling tense
Feelings of tension can cause emotional and physical exhaustion, and is a sure sign of anxiety. It’s one of those symptoms that make you feel drained, even if you haven’t put much energy into other tasks throughout your day. If you know you’ll be encountering a distressing situation, or have faced upsetting circumstances for an extended period of time, one of your body’s ways of reacting to stress triggers is tensing up. There is, however, one way to use muscle tension to your advantage… That is, to practice progressive muscle relaxation. This exercise helps you to actively engage your body in alleviating emotional pressure. Another thing you can do is, write down what causes you tension, so you can recognize when it happens and why it’s happening. This is an excellent way to prepare yourself for the event, and learn to control your body’s response in a healthy way.
Feeling irritable or “on edge”
Feelings are high. You have a pile up of tasks you don’t have the energy or will to do. Your child wants your attention. Your co-worker is annoying. You feel like your partner could be more supportive. The vacuum cleaner wasn’t where it’s supposed to be when you woke up. I can go on and on about everyday things that seem like they are pushing you to your breaking point. That feeling that you just want to be left alone and any and everything “gets on your nerves”, can get pretty intense. When you feel like this, it’s important to stop, take a deep breath, and evaluate how you’re expending your energy. Then, pick one thing to focus on for a set period of time. When the timer runs out, move on to the next thing. It’s easy to become consumed by multiple things at once. Check this out, you’re only one person. Do what you can. Give your best effort. Accept what is.
New job? New responsibilities in another aspect of your life? Or just not feeling as confident as you would like? This is where you should begin to practice thought distraction. Thought distraction is much easier said than done. But with consistent practice, you can get better at replacing negative thoughts that manifest in your mind. You can do this by taking one negative thought, and create a positive affirmation to counter that doubting “creppy crawly” feeling. Even write the affirmation down in a journal or a sticky note and post it on your mirror. As you continue to work on positive thought formation and self-acceptance, you’ll notice how your feelings about yourself and the way you carry yourself changes.
Difficulty with concentration is one symptom amongst many, that interferes with productivity and intrinsic motivation. If it’s bad enough, you may forget simple things on a regular basis, and feel like it takes hours complete a task that takes minutes. Here are 3 things you can do to help remedy this issue: 1) Take intermittent breaks, 2) do a short 3-5 minute guided meditation, and 3) work on a brain game for 5 minutes. Try this on a regular basis to help regulate how your brain and body responds to stress.
Struggle with falling or staying asleep
Many people with anxiety experience abnormal sleeping patterns. It might take you a few hours to fall asleep. You may struggle with waking up in the middle of the night, then can’t sleep again until it’s about time for you to wake up. You might even sleep through a good portion of the night, but feel restless throughout. If you’ve been dealing with these issues for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to talk with your primary care physician or psychiatrist about sleep aids. A popular, natural sleep aid you could consult your physician about is Melatonin. In addition to sleep aids, it’s important to create consistent morning and nightly routines. What are three things you can do when you wake up each morning to prepare your body for the day ahead? What are three things you can do nightly to induce a sense of calm, and prepare your body for sleep? Routines are key ways you can become more in tune with yourself and listen to your body.
Author: Jessica Harris, LCPC, LPC