Anxiety is one of the most commonly encountered problems in the mental health field, yet one of the most misunderstood and complicated ones. If you are struggling with anxiety, regardless of its severity, but you are not quite ready to take the leap and try psychotherapy, here are four unique strategies to successfully manage it by yourself.
Strategy #1. Create a sense of control. The scariest part about feeling anxious or panicky is feeling out of control or on the spot all of the time. In order to get a grip of the situation, you need to gain a sense of control and ownership of your own mind and body, which can be very hard to do if you are hyperventilating, sweating and struggling to focus on one thing at a time.
A simple exercise, I recently learned during one of my psychoanalytic psychotherapy consultation classes with William Gieseke, Ph.D., was to incorporate a relaxation technique of deep diaphragmatic breathing, a visualization of your “happy place” and an intentional exercise of “warming up your hands.” How does it work?
Relaxation technique “warm up your hands”
1) Step #1. Begin by practicing deep diaphragmatic breathing with progressive relaxation of each muscle in your body, starting with your toes and moving your way up your body until you reach you head (squeeze your muscles really hard three times quickly and then release in relaxation, moving one muscle at a time – toes, calfs, thighs, buttons, core muscles, etc. until you squeeze and release all the muscles in your body simultaneously three times).
2) Step #2. Then, imagine your “happy place” – it looks different for everyone but we all have a place that we feel safe, relaxed, taken care of and at peace with ourselves. Imagine your happy place and try to smell the smells around you, see the colors and listen to the sounds that surround you. You are completely safe and at easy with yourself.
3) Step #3. Now, here’s the interesting part: buy one of those partial immersion thermometers with organic filling, hold it up by the bulb with your thumb, pointer and middle finger, and think about “warming up your hands.” You will notice how the thermometer raises as your hands get warmer and your body and mind relax. It’s awesome, almost like magic!
This will take some practice to master and it is a progressive exercise – you need to have mastered step #1 and #2 before you can do step #3. Once you’ve mastered it, however, you can gain a sense of control whenever you feel anxious or overwhelmed. Some people think of fire in their fingers, others just think about sending all the heat from their body to their fingers but in truth, the more relaxed you are, the warmer your hands become and the less likely it is to have a panic attack or to feel anxious. Quite extraordinary, don’t you think?
Strategy #2. Distraction, distraction, distraction. This is probably the most commonly recommended strategy to manage the symptoms of anxiety and you will probably see it in almost every single self-help post or book out there.
Find a way to get your mind and energy off of the constant thinking, nervousness, self-deprecating or disturbing thoughts, etc. Professionals recommend exercise, yoga, relaxation, mindfulness, journaling, creating lists and strategies (such as this one you are reading right now), cleaning, working, reading, listening to music…really, anything that will get your mind off of the anxiety. Just be careful not to overdo it – you don’t want to get into a manic do-it-all kind of mode either. Ultimately, distraction doesn’t solve the problem but it makes it more manageable.
Strategy #3. Connect to others, who struggle with the same issue. One of the most empowering qualities of the group process or the sense of community is the feeling of “I am not alone in my pain.” There are millions of people out there, who struggle with the same thing. Find a sense of belonging in websites like PsychCentral or communities like Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, where you can connect to people, share your struggles and listen to others, who experience the same difficulty.
Strategy #4. Tap into your creativity and use it to your advantage. Are you an artist, writer, athlete, singer, musician, actor, comedian, scientist, etc.? Do you have a talent for any creative process that can channel all of your anxious energy into a socially productive or acceptable activity? If so, do it! Take advantage of the creative process and if you can, immerse yourself in it. The best way to battle anxiety is through creativity. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
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Do you have questions or comments? I would love to hear from you.