We all cope with anxiety at different levels throughout our lives. When anxiety functions normally, it is adaptive and can promote a healthy sense of motivation and stimulation. Along with fear, anxiety helped our prehistoric ancestors develop what we know as a fight-or-flight response. Though fear and anxiety are heavily intertwined, there is an important difference: fear typically arises in response to a real, definite threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, usually represents an imagined, unknown, or imprecise threat. This means that often when we experience anxiety, whatever we’re worrying about hasn’t even happened yet! And often, our worst fears never come true.
When you cope with anxiety frequently, your body’s physiological responses can often feel a lot like intense fear. While these feelings can be incredibly debilitating, there are ways you can help to alleviate your anxiety when it starts to rise, any time of the day. Remember, the only way to find what works for you is just to try different things out! The trial-and-error process can be highly informative for identifying your “anxiety triggers” and pushing back against your body’s mental and physiological reactions. Here are some of our best tips for dealing with your anxiety.
- Write down your triggers. Keep detailed notes of situations or people that make you feel anxious. Think about what causes these feelings. Do you feel anxious around your boss because you worry you’re not doing a good job? Around your Mom because she’s constantly criticizing you? Every night before bed because your mind is racing? It’s important to know who and what stimulates and worsens your anxiety. Only when you know what your triggers are, will you be able to put preventative strategies in place.
- Remember that all feelings — even anxious ones — are temporary and will pass. Every single time we experience a “feeling,” our body chemistry changes temporarily to produce that feeling. That change is finite and will dissipate – we promise! Feelings may cycle over and over again, but they will always end. We can address chronic anxiety and rumination by adopting coping mechanisms to interrupt these harmful cycles. For milder cases of anxiety, we just need to remember that the feeling will soon pass – no matter how uncomfortable.
- Practice mindfulness with your anxious feelings. Pay close attention to when these feelings start to arise, acknowledge their presence, and make a conscious choice not to accept them as the absolute truth. Remember, anxiety usually represents an imagined threat, which simply means that whatever you’re worrying about hasn’t happened yet! If and when it does happen, that’s what your body’s fear response steps in and takes over. Until then, you can control how much weight you attribute to these temporary – though painful – feelings. Often, your feelings only control your behaviour as much as you let them. Acknowledge their existence and continue on with your day. Don’t allow them to continue to hijack your behaviour unnecessarily, especially if you have no control over whether they will happen or not.
- Figure out what works for you. If you get anxious around your mother’s constant criticism, maybe you decide to see a bit less of each other, or you give yourself a pep talk before each interaction and remind yourself that criticism often has more to do with the criticizer than the criticized. Decide whether you want to address your feelings in a healthy way with your mom. If you don’t, you have to commit to you and ensure you know how to take care of yourself before and after every interaction. Maybe you practice box breathing every time you start to feel anxious. Maybe you go for a walk outside and listen to a podcast. Maybe you go to a yoga class, or meet up for coffee with a friend just to provide a temporary distraction while the feeling passes. If your mind won’t stop racing right before sleep, try writing your worries and thoughts down in a journal or on a piece of paper. Getting it out of your head and onto paper can be incredibly helpful! Whatever it is, trial-and-error is the key here. Find what works for you, take note of it, and use it next time your anxiety arises.
- Often, the antidote to anxiety is action. Anxiety is the most miserable when it exists even when you lack any sort of control or influence over a given outcome. If there is reasonable action you can take to prevent a feared outcome from happening, take it. When you’ve done everything you can (or want to!), it is time to stop unnecessary anxiety in its tracks.