Most people want to send their mental baggage on vacation instead of dealing with what is there. I can’t say I blame them. Dealing with anxiety and the emotions associated with it are challenging. That said, there is quite an argument for why you should understand your anxiety. Anxiety looks different to everyone. Some people describe it as waves which build in intensity while others describe it as an emotional tsunami. My goal as a therapist is to help people tie into understanding the triggers for their anxiety while also giving them tools to be able to manage it more effectively. Using basic tools such as journaling and iOS apps like Optimism Online help to drill down deeper into people’s emotional world and act as pre-seismic sensors to help collect small bits of data. In counseling, we look at this data together and help to discern themes and analyze how different tools might help a person as they start to notice waves and tremors in their emotional world.
If you have struggled with anxiety in the past and have not sought help, here are some ways that understanding your anxiety can benefit you:
- It helps you develop bodily awareness. Anxiety is something that not only occurs in the mind, like some people think. It happens in the body as well. Your heart may start racing, you start sweating, your heart rate increases, and your breathing becomes fast and shallow. You may also develop a stomach ache, headache, or back pain. Becoming aware of these bodily cues provides you with an exceptional way to realize that a bout of anxiety is incoming. This, in turn, allows you with a chance to do something about it at the present moment.
- It provides you with a chance to intervene during the moment. Anxiety is something that is easily prone to the snowball effect. Once it gets going, it is difficult to stop. An initial state of little significance builds upon itself, slowly grows, and can result in potentially disastrous consequences. The key to preventing this from happening is to stop it before it starts and changing your behavior; this can be challenge, but we do have some tips to get your started. To start, you can take disconnect from the present situation and take slow and deep breaths. This may take some practice to get down, but this will help stimulate your body’s relaxation response and prevent hyperventilation. Another technique is positive self-talk, which will help increase emotional comfort. You can use phrases such as: “This feeling will pass,” “I will get through this,” or anything that makes you feel comfortable. Remember to avoid negative self-talk, as this will contribute to your anxiety. Lastly, you can practice muscle relaxation because anxiety can cause our body to become tense. To do this exercise, tighten and release muscles one at a time while deeply breathing until you feel some relief.
- It helps you examine your everyday activities. Although anxiety can be the result of a major stressful or negative event, basic daily activities that you engage in may be causing you anxiety and you might not even be aware of it. This can include overachieving, fear of failure, pleasing others, always trying to find the perfect solution to problems, and much more. Once you start to understand your anxiety, you can reflect upon your daily habits and pinpoint where the anxiety stems from. This will allow you to change those behaviors or be prepared in case you find yourself in an anxiety-provoking situation. Becoming educated about yourself can make it so that anxiety does not continue to shape your life.
- It may help you see the benefits of anxiety and nervousness. I bet you are thinking: “What? How can anxiety and nervousness possibly be beneficial for anyone?” Well, in recent years, researchers have shown that some anxiety or stress isn’t such a bad thing. There is a form of beneficial stress called eustress, which is defined as: “moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer.” This type of stress keeps us excited about life and motivated in the face of difficult challenges, such as during examinations, making a good impression, playing sports, and more. It gives us that jolt of energy that keeps us focused on the task, makes us attentive to ourselves and our surroundings, and shows us that we actually care about the thing we are about to do. A good example of this is when I was in university. Prior to a difficult test, you would see many students studying furiously, mouths moving, heads bent over paper, reciting line after line. Then there was the other group of students who did not care at all, obviously did not prepare, and would be the first in and first to leave. All of the students studying all had some anxiety, some excitement and that caused them to be the top performers. Not all anxiety is bad, and understanding it can help you realize this.
If you or someone you know in Austin has been struggling or continues to struggle with anxiety or just needs someone to talk to, you can make a counseling appointment and we will find them help. Even if we aren’t the right fit, we are tied into a network of almost 800 professionals who can definitely help. If you would like an overview of what the counseling process entails, you can read about anxiety counseling. For more blog posts relating to anxiety, you can also read Can You Talk Your Way Into Anxiety and How to Cope in Our Crazy World.