Written by Michelle Skala, MA, LPC, NCC
Dealing with anxiety can be incredibly exhausting; racing thoughts, tightness in your chest, tense muscles. What is someone expected to do when everything feels so overwhelming? Thankfully, there are quite a few options. Dealing with anxiety may be difficult in the moment, however, sitting with those uncomfortable feelings and physical sensations will definitely pay off in the long run.
Let me begin be explaining the effect of constantly avoiding anxiety provoking scenarios. Avoidance has an immediate impact on stress and anxiety levels. If you are feeling anxious about something and you choose to avoid whatever might be causing that anxiety, the discomfort tends to dissipate rather quickly. You are not exposing yourself to the anxiety provoking scenario, so your fight or flight response has a reason to quiet down. The problem with avoidance is this; the next time you need to face that anxiety provoking situation, person, thing, etc. your anxiety will sky rocket, just as it did the time before. Avoidance helps you escape, but it does not help you learn or improve your response for the next anxiety provoking situation. Essentially, you need to show yourself, by sitting with the anxiety and feeling it, that you are capable of managing your anxiety, no matter how high it gets, without relying on avoidance.
There are some great skills that can be utilized to help an individual manage their anxiety more effectively and, thankfully, these are skills that can be used just about anywhere, and at any time. Let’s start with some relatively simple skills…
Slow and Deep Breathing. Try inhaling deeply enough that it feels as if you could not possibly take in more oxygen. Remember to inhale slowly so that you can remain attuned to your body. Slowly let this breath out, over the course of 7-10 seconds, whatever pace feels comfortable for you. Now repeat. Try this technique 3-5 times, and check in with yourself to evaluate the status of your anxiety. The more you practice your deep breathing, even during times when you are not anxious, the more effective you will be at using this skill when anxiety is high.
Practice Self-Care. Read a book you enjoy. Watch an enjoyable television show. Take a warm shower or bath. Light one of your favorite candles. Work on a puzzle. Call a friend or family member. Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and fulfillment. Try to connect with the positive emotions that are being stirred up by engaging in wholesome and healthy activities.
Try Using DBT. DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT suggests some great skills designed for assisting individuals with regulating their emotions and tolerating distress. A great resource to learn more about DBT is www.dbtselfhelp.com. One of my favorite DBT skills is known as radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is, essentially, the notion that we may not like our current situation but, for the sake of trying to find the silver lining and remaining positive, we work at accepting what we dislike and focusing on the things within our control. For example, an individual may be upset due to the fact that someone just rear ended their car. This person may be experiencing thoughts such as, “This isn’t fair!” or, “Why did this have to happen to me?” These types of thoughts often promote people to dwell on their discomfort, irritation, and anger. Radical acceptance suggests that this person identify what is frustrating them, and at the same time, acknowledging what they can do to make the most out of their predicament. So, someone practicing radical acceptance may think, “It is incredibly frustrating that my car was rear ended, however, I am safe and still in good health. Not to mention the police are here and writing up a report for my insurance company. I am doing everything that I can.”
Radical acceptance definitely takes practice. However, with an open mind and willingness, radical acceptance is capable of making a big difference in how you view and manage things.
While this is not an exhaustive list of skills to use to assist you with managing your anxiety, I do believe that the three previously mentioned tools are a good place to begin. Try practicing your deep breathing sporadically throughout your day, whether that is in the car while driving, before bed, while watching tv, etc. Try to engage in more self-care. Re-connect with activities that bring you joy. Make time for yourself. And finally, try to catch yourself when you are dwelling on things that are out of your control, and try to incorporate radical acceptance. Keep track of how radical acceptance improves your overall mood and outlook on your situation.
For more skills on managing your anxiety, check out www.dbtselfhelp.com.
Pederson, L., & Pederson, C. (2012). The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual. Eau Claire: Premier Publishing and Media.
Michelle Skala received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Stephens College and her Master of Arts in professional counseling from Lindenwood University. Michelle is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Missouri, as well as a nationally certified counselor. Michelle has experience treating and providing therapy to individuals, couples, groups and families. She has worked with patients in residential programs, day treatment programs, outpatient programs, as well as those that prefer the private practice setting. In addition, Michelle has treated patients struggling with eating disorders, self-injury, trauma, depression, and anxiety. Michelle has facilitated a wide variety of therapy groups including body image, emotion regulation and distress tolerance, cognitive behavior therapy, guided imagery, experiential eating disorder, amongst other topics. Her treatment approach combines dialectical behavior therapy, solution-focused, as well as client centered methodologies.