Placing judgment on yourself for being anxious increases the problem. You then go in a negative thought tailspin and have difficulty getting out of it. Remember, these thoughts are just thoughts.
When anxiety paralyzes you
Before I became a therapist, I never knew what to call what I was experiencing. As a teenager, I thought what was going on was normal--that everyone experienced it. I had difficulty sleeping, a constantly running mind, and negative self-talk that made me believe not-so-great things about myself.
Throughout college, I still struggled with it; however, because I was in psychology courses, I now had something to call what I was experiencing and what millions of other people experience on a daily basis: anxiety.
As I sit here trying to write about anxiety, I feel myself getting anxious. I feel it in my heart and in my chest. I feel it in my stomach where I typically will have severe nausea. I feel it in my thoughts, asking me things like “Who do you think you are?” and “You can’t do anything right.” I feel it in my hands, as they begin to tremble while my fingers graze across the keyboard.
Where do you feel anxiety?
Anxiety looks different from person to person but usually has similar characteristics. Anxiety can be a range of symptoms including persistent worry, fear, panic, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, isolation, panic attacks, chest pain, or nausea. It can lead to many physical medical conditions in addition to psychological pain. Many people with persistent anxiety will argue that the psychological distress is far worse than the physical.
For me, anxiety is perfectionism. It’s a constant worry of things that could go wrong, ways that I am being perceived, or my stomach dropping if I make a simple mistake. It’s something that gets better and then gets worse. It comes in waves. It comes when you least expect it. It comes when things are going well. It comes when things are going poorly. It just comes.
While we can identify triggers and be aware of things that increase our anxiety, it’s even more important to know what to do when these symptoms arise.
What Do I Do?
Noticing the physical response I’m having just simply writing about anxiety is the first step to do something about it. Instead of forcing myself to continue writing and “get it done”, I took a small break after becoming aware of the symptoms to get up, walk around, and grab a drink of water. When I sat back down to write this paragraph, I physically felt more calm and am able to focus and write what I intend to write. Anxiety can paralyze you. It can cause you to avoid daily life tasks, people who are important to you, and makes doing simple things extremely difficult. Below are some things to do when noticing anxiety in yourself and are suggestions. It’s up to you to find the exact recipe that works for your anxiety symptoms!
1. Notice non-judgmentally.
In order to change any behaviors or symptoms, we first have to recognize that there is something to change. To notice when you are anxious, you have to be aware of how your physical body is responding. If you start to get hot, trembly, breathe faster and experience increased heart rate, you could say something like, “I am noticing my breathing get faster and my stomach feel nausea. I must be feeling nervous about something.” Additionally, it is not helpful to place judgment on yourself for feeling this way. These thoughts are something like this:
While these thoughts are the more instinctual thoughts, they are not helpful. Placing judgment on yourself for being anxious increases the problem. You then go in a negative thought tailspin and have difficulty getting out of it. Remember, these thoughts are just thoughts. You first have to notice they are there in order to change them.
2. Be curious.
As mentioned above, being judgmental about the way we are feeling or our anxiety is not helpful. Instead, be curious about the anxiety if you don’t know directly what the trigger was. For example these thoughts could look like this:
anxiety versus beating yourself up about it. Starting your thoughts with “I’m noticing” or “I’m observing that” creates distance between you and your anxious thoughts so that you can take action instead of become paralyzed and stuck in the ruminating cycle.
3. Take action.
In order to change our thoughts, we have to first be aware that they are there, be curious about why and then use coping skills in order to bring your body back to regulated. Once you start noticing your physical body getting escalated, you have to calm this down first. In order to calm our minds, we have to first regulate our bodies. In doing so, you can do anything using your senses. Examples include:
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT
Therapist. Millennial. Social Worker. Dog Mom. Friend. Sister. Empath. INFJ. Lover of ice cream.