In Part 1 of The Anxiety Reduction Series I went over basic tips and skills for reducing anxiety. In Part 2 I am going over more advanced skills for reducing anxiety. These are skills that I try to teach all of my patients when helping them reduce anxiety.
1. Focus on the present, not the future
Most people who have chronic anxiety issues or an anxiety disorder have a lot of thoughts about the future that they cannot control. We all think about or even worry about the future from time to time, but if this becomes a constant thought process, it can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, racing thoughts, and worry about worst case scenarios. If you feel like this is you, it’s important to start restructuring your thoughts so that you focus more on the present, and less on what you cannot control. A coping skill that I can teach you and help you integrate into your daily routine is called “checking the facts”. Checking the facts challenges the brain to only focus on what you know to be true without a doubt. When you check the facts, it distracts the brain from focusing on the future or what you cannot control.
2. Learn how to meditate and practice mindfulness
There have been a lot of studies done using meditation and mindfulness that show that both are definitely helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety. Meditation and mindfulness may sound intimidating, but they are really just about focusing on the present moment. Meditation is a practice used to help you focus less on thoughts in your brain and more on the present moment. Some people use it for spiritual enlightenment, but others use it as a secular practice to reduce stress and anxiety and stay focused on the present moment. Mindfulness is a state of mind in which you intentionally focus your attention on something that anchors you to the present moment throughout your day, like washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or folding laundry
Meditation can be challenging for people with anxiety disorders, but it gets easier with practice. It’s usually most helpful to use an app on your phone or recorded guided meditations when you are first getting started in order to keep yourself focused. Try meditating for 5 minutes twice a day, and then add 5 minutes each week until you get to 20 minutes twice a day. Pick a place in your home that is comfortable, free from technology, and a place that you will not be interrupted by people or animals. Once you feel more comfortable with meditation, try out different types to find the ones that you like the most.
Mindfulness is less structured and is not a formal practice like meditation. As I explained earlier, mindfulness is more of a state of mind that anchors you to the present moment throughout the day. As you move throughout your day, try to notice what you are thinking about. Instead of being present as you eat breakfast with your family, are you thinking about work or the deadline you have this week? Try to bring your focus to the present moment, taking in what you see, smell, hear, and taste as you are sitting with your family at the breakfast table. Bring awareness to the act of eating breakfast, and notice if this helps you become more present.
3. Restructure negative or irrational thoughts into positive, rational thoughts
As discussed in Part 1, chronic anxiety can cause us to worry about worst case scenarios that are normally irrational, negative, and completely out of our control. Unfortunately, some of us take these negative and irrational thoughts as the truth and base our behavior on them. Counseling for anxiety can help you become aware of these thoughts and learn to restructure them so that your emotions and behavior are based on the facts of the situation. One technique that I teach a lot of my patients is how to restructure these thoughts on your own. Take out a piece of paper and make 2 columns, one that says “Unhealthy” and another that says “Healthy”. Write down the unhealthy thoughts in the “Unhealthy” column about a situation that is causing the feelings of anxiety. These thoughts normally include “shoulds” that lead to unhealthy expectations of ourselves and others, negative thoughts about ourselves, and all or nothing thinking. Some examples of unhealthy or irrational thoughts are:
· “I’ll never” or “I never” thoughts
· I’m not good enough thoughts
· “What if” thoughts
· “I should” or “I have to” thoughts
· “They should” or “They have to” thoughts
· Thoughts about worst case scenarios
For every negative thought that you write down, restructure the thought into something positive and present tense. Write down the healthy thought in the “healthy” column next to the unhealthy thought. Healthy and rational thoughts never include “should’s”, “have to’s”, negative thoughts about yourself, or unrealistic expectations of yourself or others. Examples of healthy and rational thoughts are:
· I can achieve my goals with practice
· The facts of the situation are…
· I can choose to…
· They can choose to…
· I am good enough regardless of my mistakes
· I can’t control the future but I have the skills to handle what might happen
Now you have a list of healthy, rational, positive, and present tense thoughts that you can read over when you notice yourself having negative or anxious thoughts. Keep the list readily available in your phone, wallet or purse so that you can pull it out anytime you need a reminder of some healthy thoughts.
4. Start an affirmation practice
This is one of my most used techniques with patients, and it works! A lot of people who have anxiety or depression also have negative or unhealthy thoughts about themselves. It is really important to learn how to talk to yourself in a kind, loving way. Try to make a list of 10 positive, true, and present tense statements about yourself. If you’re having trouble thinking of affirmations, search the internet for affirmations for ideas. Some examples of affirmations include:
· “I am worthy”
· “I am good enough just the way I am”
· “I have skills that I can use in recovery”
· “I am a valuable woman/man”
Once you have created a list of affirmations, pick one every day to focus on. Say the affirmation out loud to yourself in front of the mirror at least 20 times per day. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but I find that once my patients get comfortable with doing it, they find that it starts to make them feel better about themselves. Try it!
5. Find a therapist who can do EMDR
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique used by trained therapists to help desensitize the reactions you might have to triggers or situations that cause anxiety. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, usually in the form of eye movement to bring up events and situations that are associated with unhealthy belief systems in the neural network. The bilateral stimulation desensitizes you to the triggering event, and then a more adaptive belief is integrated into the neural network. EMDR is an evidence based technique that has been shown to be very effective for the treatment of anxiety.
I hope Part 2 of The Anxiety Reduction Series has been helpful in giving you some additional tools and techniques to reduce anxiety. At Silver Lining Counseling in Charlotte, I use all of these techniques to help reduce symptoms of anxiety. If you are interested in learning more about what I can do to help you reduce anxiety, please call me or schedule a free phone consultation by clicking on the “Request an Appointment” button on the top of my webpage.