Managing Anxiety Starts With Recognizing It
Coping With Anxiety By Noticing It
One of the most helpful ways to manage anxiety, after accepting that it has stopped by for a visit, is to put purposeful distance between it and oneself, positioning yourself in the role of observer. Here’s an example of how we do this through a process of “noticing” what our experience is. Anytime that we “notice” something, there is a temporality to it; it’s brief and it has a hard stop. Moving anxiety to this category is hugely important in managing it. It’s not here to stay, but let’s notice what it’s up to, sort of like you notice the outfit choice of that annoying family member. That sweater? Yikes!
First, and back to last week, say hello. Auntie Angst, I see that you’ve come to visit without calling or texting (rude.) Though I wish you hadn’t come by because I have a shit-ton to do right now, let’s see what we can do to make your visit as short as possible. (Remember, practice “Annoyed Acceptance.”)
Noticing Where Anxiety “Activates” Your Body
Next, we move to noticing, and we’re going to keep it simple and body-based, just like my sweater example above. No, you’re not asking anxiety where she got those awful earrings, you’re noticing what she’s tapping into in YOUR body. Notice what the visit is bringing up for you by paying attention first to what is happening in your body; this is commonly referred to as doing a body scan. For many people, their anxiety has a “tell” just like any good liar, something that tips you off that they’re bluffing, a physical sign that you can look for. Take a moment to notice what’s happening in your body that tells you where anxiety is “activating” you.
Here are a few physical “tells” that are common:
Notice if your heart has started to beat faster or feels stronger (pounding) in your chest
Notice if your chest feels tight or as if you can’t get a full breath that allows you to totally fill up those lungs
Notice if your stomach starts to rumble, tighten, or clench
Notice if your abdomen has a “sinking” feeling
Notice if your shoulders, neck or back have become tense
Notice if you’re squeezing your hands or toes together – and are those palms clammy?
Notice if you feel a flash of heat across your chest or neck
Noticing Thoughts That Pull You Out of The Present
On its most basic level, anxiety is a preoccupation with what is to come rather than what IS. Because we fear or feel uncertain about the unknown, we spend an inordinate amount of time creating scenarios, rehearsing situations, or writing stories about all of the potential outcomes. We lose the present moment by handing it over to futile attempts at predicting what might come, and I don’t know about you, but no one has paid me yet to be a psychic or crystal ball reader. And let’s be real, mental rehearsals of the future are just exhausting! Chances are, you have a set of words or thought patterns that you get into (in your head) when anxiety is trying to coax you away from the present. Notice – they are usually future tense words/phrases and often involve, “what if” language.
Here are a few mental “tells” that might sound like:
(At breakfast) what will I make for dinner? Do I have everything I need?
What will my team think when I have to share my report at the meeting?
What if I get stuck in traffic and am late to this appointment?
What if I miss my chance to get vaccinated? Then what?! (Phew, this one is a doozy!)
By noticing how anxiety is manifesting in our bodies and in our minds, we can begin to identify when we need to deploy our coping skills (blogs to come!) to keep a safe distance between ourselves and anxiety. Through noticing, you gain that space and perspective that you need in order to not sink into “anxiety overwhelm.” And if you need some one on one attention, I offer personal anxiety counseling to women in PA and MD. Notice what your needs are, and take action to get them met!