Sometimes our bodies send up red flags unnecessarily. These flags can trigger mild to severe anxiety attacks, especially now amidst the COVID19 pandemic and the looming presidential election.
Anxiety triggers for me include doctor’s offices and hospitals. I’ve had traumatic experiences in both places. In the past when I went to a doctor’s office, even for general check-ups, my anxiety was through the roof. Add a near-phobia of needles and it was a personal hell.
But, there are ways to minimize anxiety and prevent anxiety attacks that don’t involve medication. Now at the doctor, though I still find it stressful, I never have panic attacks.
Here are four of my tried and true methods for curbing anxiety in stressful situations.
- Identify the fear
When the first wave of anxiousness hits you, immediately try to name what caused the feeling. Simply putting a name to your fear can clear up anxiousness right away.
We’re biologically programmed to fear the unknown. When our body sends off a warning signal and we don’t know why, we become stressed.
Once we’re aware of the threat we can relax.
2. Follow your anxious logic to its end
Most anxiety is rooted in irrational fears that we project into “what if” situations. We string together the worst possible outcomes and envision them leading to unrecoverable disaster.
Let’s use me publishing this blog article as an example.
It can be nerve wrecking to publish your thoughts to the public and open yourself to criticism. If I let my anxiety control me, I’d agonize over every word or never write at all.
If I follow the logic of anxiety it sounds something like this:
“What if I publish this article on my blog and the whole world hates it? and then someone points out how shitty of an article it is, and then they think I’m a loser, and then everyone realizes I’m a fraud and an unlovable sop who hasn’t done anything meaningful with her life.”
Once I voice my anxiety it sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Following your anxious logic to its end allows you to dismantle it piece by piece.
- One mediocre blog article is not going to cause my friends and family to abandon me
- I’ve gotten positive feedback on all my articles so far, why should this one be different?
- I can name 10 people who don’t think I’m a loser, and this article won’t change that.
- I can name four people who love me unconditionally. Therefore, I am lovable.
- How many people will actually read this? Maybe 20- not the world.
- Even if it’s a bad article, I can get better in the future. But I won’t if I never write.
Talking through these things brings your anxiety back down to a normal level. It also alerts you to places you need to heal (which can prevent future anxiety attacks).
3. Distract yourself
Running away from problems is rarely good, but sometimes when you’re anxious about things that can’t be avoided your best method of coping is distraction.
Ruminating about events can cause a lot of anxiety while you wait to have surgery or make a public presentation. In these cases, distraction is a great antidote for panic.
Watch a funny video, play a game on your phone, or read a book while you wait. Whatever the activity is make sure it’s complex enough to capture your attention.
4. Breathe deeply and give yourself the pep-talk you would give your friend
Self-talk is a very powerful thing. That’s why negative self-talk can be so disastrous (and honestly might be what’s causing your anxiety). So, when you’re feeling nervous, ask yourself “If my best friend was in this situation what would I tell them?”
Then, say it to yourself as you breathe deeply and relax your shoulders and jaw. We’re much kinder to friends than we are to ourselves. Thinking about what we would say to them is the easiest way to ensure we stay kind. Otherwise our “pep” talk might turn into more negative talk.
Remember, intense anxiety should be treated by a professional therapist. There’s no shame in getting the help you need.
Keep an eye out for my article about long-term methods for preventing and reducing anxiety in your life.