Anxiety can feel overwhelming, often involving unpleasant physical sensations accompanied by rumination that just won’t stop. Anxiety can creep up and spoil an otherwise pleasant moment. The very best thing you can do to cope with anxiety when it rises is welcome it in! It’s entirely counter-intuitive to do so, yet it works. In fact, it is the most effective treatment for anxiety.
When you try to avoid feeling anxious, push it away, or try to distract from it, you are feeding the monster and anxiety will continue to grow. If you attempt to escape anxiety, you are learning that anxiety is something dangerous to be feared, which in turn increases your experience of anxiety. When this happens repeatedly, you become more and more anxious. When you not just face anxiety, but welcome the experience in, you will learn that anxiety is not to be feared, you can cope with whatever comes your way, and then, and only then, will anxiety subside and become tolerable.
Use these to encourage yourself to cope with anxiety in-the-moment.
1. “This is a moment of suffering”
Acknowledging that you are in a painful moment is a first step toward tolerating it. Taking a mindful approach by simply labeling that “this is a moment of suffering,” can help you notice and attend to what is happening. When you mindfully label this experience, it can give you some space to decide how to respond. Instead of being caught in the hurricane of anxiety, you can take an internal step back, put words on your experience, and have a moment to get a little perspective to cope with anxiety. Acknowledging when you are in a moment of suffering is also a first step in the practice of mindful self-compassion, a therapy developed to alleviate human suffering.
2. “I can do it”
Anxiety and fear can make you freeze up, holding you back from some task you need to do or a goal you want to go after. Remind yourself you can do it (after all, you made it this far). Sure, it may not turn out perfect or exactly as you want. However, when you commit to trying, there is hope that it can work out. When you try, you also get a chance to learn. Saying to yourself, “I can do it,” reminds you that even if you are feeling so anxious that you are sweating and shaking, you can still continue to put one foot in front of the other, gently moving toward your goals. Anxiety and fear may come along for the ride, and they don’t have to stop you from getting to where you want to be.
3. “I can get through this”
Maybe you have tried something new, and it’s not working out. You may feel like your world has crashed down and thoughts like “I can’t cope with this” and “I can’t get through this difficult situation” may cross your mind. Anxiety is a common trigger for the belief that we cannot cope or we can’t make it through. Remind yourself you can get through this. Chances are, you have already faced challenges in your life. Each time, you managed to make it through and learn from the situation – you may have even ended up with a better outcome. Draw upon this inner reflection on strength and resilience to get through this situation too.
4. “I am here now”
One of the biggest causes of anxiety is the tendency to live in the past and the future, rather than the present. Sometimes, you may dwell on the past with regrets. You may worry about the future and what could be. This adds to anxiety by keeping your mind spinning in many different directions and adding the pain of the past and possible pain of the future to an already difficult moment. Use gentle reminders to pull yourself into the present. You can also support a present-focused mindset with mindfulness techniques, such as slow, deep breathing or noticing and labeling your surroundings, such as describing the shape and color of objects in your environment.
5. “I am okay”
Fear is a hard-wired response that you have developed through many years of evolution. Fear tells you a threat is near, and you must take action. However, fear does not always fit the facts. Anxiety is fear run amok and the fear of possible threats. When you feel anxiety, check things out. Look at your emotions and the facts of the situation. Evaluate whether that anxiety is well-founded or a false alarm. Sometimes your anxiety is well-founded, and you should react. Most of the time, anxiety is your mind working in overdrive and there is no real life-or-death threat in your path. In those cases, remind yourself that your brain is trying to keep you safe, but you are okay. It helps to notice the fear so you can cope with anxiety and understand that it is the experience of it and, you are okay.
If you struggle with persistent anxiety, you might benefit from the help of a therapist. Mental health providers who use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help you recognize and challenge your thoughts, tackle anxiety, and provide one-on-one solutions empowering you to manage and cope with anxiety. If needed, contact a qualified therapist to help and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!