Managing anxiety on a regular basis is exhausting. Many things trigger anxiety and it is impossible to be prepared for everything that can potentially make you feel anxious. Some people suffer from generalized anxiety, while others suffer from phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Each person’s experience with anxiety is different, but causes similar thought processes, like:
- Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst-case scenario is going to happen. For example, feeling sure you will fail an exam you are anxious about, even though you studied and know all of the material.
- All-or-None Thinking: Seeing things in extremes, like “I can never do anything right” or “I am always the one who gets blamed for bad things that happen”.
- Overgeneralization: Taking an isolated situation and generalizing the key factors into your general understanding of the world. For example, a person who experienced domestic violence with a male partner may overgeneralize, assuming that all men are violent and will hurt you.
- Minimization and Maximization: Seeing negative things as more negative than they are, or not giving credit, recognizing, or accepting good things.
These are called cognitive distortions because they negatively affect the way you interpret a stressful situation. It is important to have a plan when a cognitive distortion causes you to feel anxious. One way to manage the triggered anxiety is to follow the Three T’s to reduce anxiety: Time it out, Think it out, and Talk it out.
1.Time It Out
In times of high stress it is easy for your mind to get carried away. Your thoughts will race when your mind is stressed, causing you to make assumptions about the stressful situation reflecting cognitive distortions like the ones listed above. This will lead you to believe things that may not be entirely accurate and act out of those rash thoughts, beliefs and feelings. To avoid jumping to conclusions and making inaccurate assumptions about a situation, remember that the situations we encounter in a day rarely require an immediate reaction. Time is on your side; take advantage of it by using the following techniques:
- Think Before You React. When a conflict, issue, or mistake confronts us, we sometimes feel pressured to react immediately. We feel as though such situations are urgent, and require an immediate reaction. This urge to react to a stressor can be fueled by other emotions, like fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, and anticipation. Each of these emotions come with a feeling of urgency, but keep in mind that you can take the time you need to process what you are confronted with. Instead of assessing a situation to react, assess the situation to understand. If you can take a minute to understand the issue at hand, you will then be able to see all of the components, making it easier to decide when and how to respond to the stressor.
- Take Breaks. Stress does not only result from conflict or unexpected situations. It can come about from daily tasks that build up, causing you to feel anxious and fatigued. A way to reduce the anxiety that tends to be consistent during the day is to remember to give your mind a break. Fatigue is a major contributing factor to anxiety. While running the course of your day it can be easy to forget that you are causing your body and mind to work hard. Because of this, it is important to take breaks and rest. Try practicing meditation exercises, going for a walk, or just taking time to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, or snack. These breaks do not need to be long, but they will help a great deal in reducing the overall anxiety you feel throughout the day.
- Stick To A Schedule. Another way to reduce anxiety is to stick to a schedule or routine. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes we cannot help the obstacles that are presented to us. Creating a routine reduces the stress that comes with a chaotic schedule, which comes in handy when needing to take care of unexpected challenges. To begin creating a routine, outline your daily and weekly responsibilities. Factor in wake up and bed times, meal times, and appointment times for work, school, and medical appointments. If you have your day planned out in advance it will reduce the stress of having to juggle several things at once, making it easier to handle unexpected challenges.
2.Think It Out
Your thoughts are powerful and will have a major effect on your anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety tend to have negative racing thoughts that affect the way they interpret, understand, feel, and react to certain situations. It is important to remain aware of your thoughts and how they affect the way you respond to anxiety. Stay mindful of your thoughts; it is important that you stay in control of them so they do not control you. Some ways to stay in control of your thoughts are:
- Challenge Negative Thoughts. Anxiety is fueled by negative thoughts, and sometimes we are not even aware of how severely we are affected by a negative way of thinking. Negative thoughts are not always apparent, but any thought that gives you a negative view of yourself and your ability to handle a situation is a negative thought. Once you have identified the negative thought, flip it. Find the evidence against the negative thought to create a balanced thought that recognizes the challenge, but also your ability to successfully handle the challenge.
- Be Mindful of Cognitive Distortions. Cognitive distortions are powerful and have a negative impact on anxiety. Cognitive distortions are erroneous thinking patterns that cause a person to see himself or herself, the world, or the future in a negative way. These cognitive distortions negatively effect how you understand difficult situations. Everyone has a habit of using cognitive distortions like the ones listed above. It is important to identify and be mindful of cognitive distortions- being able to identify them in the moment will help you when challenging negative thoughts.
- Do Not Overthink. Anxiety commonly causes overthinking. It is fueled by your own insecurities. When you find yourself being distracted by or obsessing over an anxious thought, remember to take a step back and remind yourself that the difficult situation will pass. The more you fixate on a negative situation or anxious thought the more power it has over you.
3.Talk It Out
Everyone needs support sometimes. It can be difficult to manage anxiety, especially when feeling triggered by a stressful or unpleasant situation. It can sometimes be difficult to figure out how to feel and react to a situation on your own, so it helps to have an established support system with whom you can talk about the situation and options for resolution. A supportive person will be able to help you feel validated about your anxiety and feelings while helping you find resolution for the issue at hand. Consider the following sources of support when you are feeling anxious:
- Family and Friends. Friends and family can be very beneficial when needing support to manage anxiety. Friends and family understand you in an intimate way. Those who are close to you understand how and why you are the person you are. They know how to give you support and care for you as their friend, partner, and/or family member.
- Support Group. Support groups are also a great source of support because they provide a group of people who can identify with what you are going through better than someone who has not experienced the same hardships and struggles in regard to managing anxiety. Members of support groups are able to empathize, provide support, relate to your experiences, and offer suggestions on how to handle anxiety and difficult situations.
- Therapy. Attending therapy with a mental health professional is an excellent way to learn how to manage your anxiety. Therapists have plenty of academic, professional, and even personal experience that has taught them how to handle many of the symptoms you may be experiencing. Therapists are trained to teach you ways to manage your anxiety through means of therapeutic processes, like:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of therapy that is designed to target and challenge cognitive distortions like the ones previously listed. With CBT, you will learn how to slow down your thoughts so you can better process information, which will make your emotions and reactions less intense.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): DBT is much like CBT, but focuses on the negative emotions and how they are fueled by thoughts and behavior. Emotions can be tricky, but if you can learn to understand them you can learn how to prevent them from affecting your thoughts and behavior in a negative way.
- Talk therapy: Sometimes you just need to talk it out to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Talk therapy gives you the space to verbally explore what is bothering you and how you can develop an understanding of the situation to make it less upsetting or stressful.