LIVING WITH ANXIETY
By: Tiffany Mitchell
As I look in the mirror my heart starts to race thinking about the presentation I have to give at work. I’m used to my heart racing with trying to juggle the family and work, but this time it is worse. This time I feel like I can not breathe. I take a few minutes to try and compose myself while listening to my kids outside the door asking for breakfast. I open the door and go about our morning routine. As I’m making breakfast, I am trying so hard to not focus on the presentation, but it keeps coming into my mind, the questions are swirling: Did I put enough information down? Am I dressed appropriately? What if I get a question I can not answer? What if I’m late? I feel so rushed to get the kids off to school and as I prepare to leave for work my mind is still spinning with questions, my body hurts, I am so tense. I try to convince myself it is all because of the presentation, but reality is, lately I almost always feel like this.
Does this story sound familiar? Many people live silently with anxiety that at times can feel so overpowering it takes all their strength to get through the day. Anxiety can come in many forms and arise for many different reasons. There are many different causes and types of anxiety including, separation, health, performance, catastrophic thinking, social and many others. It can present as physical symptoms; dry mouth, stomach pains, headaches, stiff neck/shoulders or back, racing heart, lack of appetite, shortness of breath. Or it can present through emotional and mental concerns; not being able to concentrate, mood swings, mind constantly running over scenarios.
In overcoming anxiety there are many different techniques one can use, I will only briefly mention a few of the common ones. The main goal of any technique is simple, to break the cycle of anxiety. One of the most common techniques is mindfulness, this can be accomplished through breathing exercises, meditation, or a full body scan. The main goal of mindfulness is to bring your attention to the present moment, to break the rumination on past events or worrying about what the future will bring. These techniques often require 15 minutes or more to be of full effect.
Another technique that is especially useful when thoughts are focused on the past and decisions made, is journaling. The goal of journaling is to get the thoughts down on paper, physically write them down to help stop the thoughts. Journaling can take many forms in the way it is written or the style from simply writing down the anxieties to comparing options. Often with journaling I hear ‘but I’m worried someone will read it’, my encouragement with this fear is that once you are done writing destroy the paper. The point is not always to have the physical copy to reread rather the therapy is writing it down.
What about the times when anxiety hits and we do not have 20 minutes to focus on alleviating it? There are techniques that can be done quickly and in between daily tasks. Two of the most common are the ‘stop technique’ and distraction. The stop technique involves imagining a big red stop sign, or physically saying the word ‘STOP’ when anxious thoughts start, the important piece is to not give judgement to the thought or how long you took before remembering to say stop. The second technique, distraction, involves finding simple things to focus on, for example finding 3 things in the room that share a color, shape, letter, etc. and touching them or saying them in your mind, then 2, then 1.
Anxiety is individual in how it presents. It is important to remember the tools needed to overcome and cope with anxiety will be just as unique. For treatment there is no one size fits all, and often it is a process of trial and error to determine what works best for yourself. The point to remember is that it is a process.