The acceleration of technology, social media and the pace of life today may find you in a state of anxiety and hypervigilance. Anxiety is mentally distressing concern, fearfulness or undue worry about future events.
Anxiety is like the elephant in the room because it can be overwhelming to our mindset and ruin our day when we experience it intensely. Here are some things to know about anxiety and how to move through it:
Recognize that your thoughts are powerful.
Your thoughts form the basis of you mental mindset and outlook. You can learn to better control your thoughts despite the unconscious tapes that may play from time to time in your head. These thoughts can create inappropriate levels of stress and anxiety. Tapes include “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m going to mess this up,” etc. If you have enough of them, negative thoughts can lead to mental distress when negative feelings seem to take over.
You can program yourself with these negative thoughts. If you say to yourself, “I will fail,” you just may do that. Likewise, “I will succeed,” starts the path to success. Many of us need to stop talking ourselves down, and start talking ourselves up.
You can learn to recognize if your troublesome thoughts are based in fact or just a thought. These types of thoughts, when false, are often linked to feelings of low self-worth, guilt or shame, and are not facts. For a way to trick yourself out of some of the internalized mental loops that are rooted in the unconscious, guide your thoughts by course-correcting them. Ask yourself if you know what you are thinking is true–and tamp down those negative, “awfulizing” thoughts. For more information see our blog on “How to Stop Negative Self Talk.”
These types of thoughts could also be part of your inner child rearing up, trying to get your attention because that part of you doesn’t feel safe. For more on how to recognize your inner child and help it along, see our blog.
Recognize the anxiety you feel may not be your own.
Many of us go into a stress response too easily. A lion isn’t chasing us and our physical safety is not in peril. But we feel as if our lives are in danger or that at least a part of our ego is. Highly sensitive people and empaths especially have to work at not picking up other’s anxiety.
According to Dr. Jen Freed, Ph.D., psychotherapist and psychological astrologer who helps others find clarity and purpose in their lives, we all co-regulate one another and respond to those around us, filtering other’s feelings all the time. Empaths have strong abilities in picking up on other’s feelings, whether they want them or not. “When you are a highly sensitive person, you absolutely have to have time to be alone and in charge,” she says in a November 2018 Goop podcast entitled “The Anxious Mind.” Work toward regular self-care. By sticking to a routine, whether that’s your own thing you do like running, walking, meditating, or reading, do it regularly. Ask God or greater spirit energy to take from you the fear or anxiety you are feeling. Protect yourself.
Another concept of anxiety not being your own, which is a little more “out there,” is the idea of epigenetics. Simplified definitions of epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on and off. In other words, epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes). Counteracting some of the past, ancestral patterns which you don’t want such as disease can be a matter of mind over matter.
Your genes may live out the expressions of what is in your past ancestry, as a sort of chemical mark on your genes. This may leave you more likely to have the same pattern of trauma, anxiety, or other such maladies if your ancestors experienced them. Likewise, if you come from a long line of good health, living to a ripe old age or other more positive health and mental health outcomes, this may also be in your lineage. A number of studies have been done involving epigenetics in recent years, such as outlined in the December 2018, New York Times article, “Can We Really Inherit Trauma?”
Recognize that nothing is under your control.
In the Goop “Anxious Mind” podcast, Ellen Vora, MD, a board certified psychiatrist who often begins by helping her patients heal their physical body, says: “Don’t worry, nothing is under control.” That about sums up the false thinking in unwarranted or anxiety.
Know that you can work to control your thoughts and actions but you cannot control others or events that will happen. Nor should you. Would you want yourself controlled that way? But you can control your own actions and response to what others are doing. Do not let others’ actions or thoughts control you; this puts your well-being in their hands. Put it back in your hands.
When you grasp these concepts, you can start to feel more trust and acceptance, and begin to free yourself from anxiety.
Here are some ways to reduce your anxiety:
The fear wheel in your brain can get stuck in a loop and create high anxiety. If you are feeling fearful or anxiety-ridden about something specific or even in general, it’s okay to take a time out. Meditation, music, exercise and relaxation can help when anxiety starts to bubble up as a way to get your mind off your mental stress and anxiety. Distract yourself with a book or a movie that interests you. Go for a walk and listen to your favorite music or a podcast of interest.
Mindfulness: don’t wrestle your anxiety to the ground.
Mindfulness is about awareness. Used as a therapeutic tool, mindfulness can be defined as a “mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.” Being mindful can especially help those plagued by harmful or negative automatic thoughts by allowing the person to stop the rumination and obsessive thoughts, while getting more grounded in their body and in the present moment.
Part of being mindful is accepting what is actually happening, even if it is in your head, rather than getting wrapped up in how things should be, or what your ideal thoughts should be.
Don’t resist your current reality or your perception of it. Instead of fighting your thoughts, challenge them, yes. But also let them move through you. Acknowledge them, and allow them to pass through, and move on. Let things happen. Release. Gaining control of anxiety is as much about letting go as it is overtly doing anything.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: a toolbox of skills
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a more formal way to course-correct or tame the thoughts which aren’t serving you. CBT recognizes that our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving indeed shape our experiences. Change these patterns and you can change your experiences.
Practicing some of the techniques of CBT can help you change your thought patterns and importantly, the beliefs you may have which hold you back, your attitudes and ultimately your behavior. Cognitive distortions are the inaccurate thoughts that reinforce your negative thought patterns and emotions.
CBT likely involves meeting with a qualified therapist for a period of time which has the potential to leave you with life-long skills to get yourself out of periods of anxiety and stress. An end goal is to live with more ease while better striving toward your goals. In other words, you can learn to strive for your peace of mind and goals, and not strive toward your anxiety, by recognizing, acknowledging and working through your negative automatic thoughts and feelings.
Again, like mindfulness, CBT uses techniques which invite you to challenge your harmful or destructive beliefs and restructure them, known as cognitive restructuring techniques. Some techniques and tools include simple things like journaling and relaxed breathing to more complicated things like taking a deeper dive into your thoughts such as playing out your worst case scenarios or scripts until the end your go-to way of thinking, or taking an inventory of your negative thoughts and countering them with opposite, positive statements. Another classic technique is Socratic reasoning which can be used to challenge your irrational thoughts. This includes asking yourself if you know the thought to be true. Again, see our “How to Stop Negative Self Talk” blog.
For more information on CBT, see this article by the Positive Psychology Program for an in-depth look at CBT at its tools you can use now to get there.
One increasingly popular but scientifically unproven way to reduce anxiety for pets and people is to take cannabinoid products, whether through tinctures, oils, beverages or edible products such as gummies. Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is the second most common chemical compound found in the hemp plant. While marijuana is illegal in many states, many states will allow the sale of CBD products. Because CBD products come from agricultural hemp they contain less than .3 percent THC, the mind-altering compound of marijuana that gets you high. CBD products can be used occasionally as a mood regulator, and may especially help when the bubbling up of your anxiety gets intense.
See our Spirit Times’ blog on CBD products to reduce anxiety in early 2019, so stay tuned. But for now, know that CBD can help some people release and let go of their anxiety by promoting a calm, relaxed state, which ultimately puts you back in control, not your negative automatic thoughts.
In summary, some anxiety is normal as we wrestle with “what could happen” and all the forces that act on our lives. When we’re quickly able to move on and constructively resolve our anxiety, it’s not a problem. However, when it is in front of us every day, substituting for and preventing daily joy, and it seems to get in the way of our every move, then it can be a time for professional help.
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