How To Deal With Anxiety Without Letting Worry It’s Getting Worse Overtake You
For all of us who regularly experience some form of anxiety (40 million in the US alone), we’re at least acquainted with the fear that our anxiety is taking over. That it might prevent us from doing the things we want or need to do. That is why it helps to learn how to deal with anxiety before our worry exacerbates it.
Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it’s the time when they most need to think.
~Bill Clinton, Entrepreneur~
Believe it or not, anxiety serves a powerful purpose in our lives. It brings our attention to what’s most important to us, and it can be a useful resource if we know how to harness it.
Because we’re all so used to operating on autopilot most of the time, we need the occasional jolt, or whisper, of motivation now and then. We simply need some sort of catalyst, or push, to pay attention. And anxiety most certainly fits this bill.
So, how do we deal with anxiety and have it work for us instead of against us? Give these three steps a try:
Recognize anxiety as a signal.
Instead of experiencing anxiety as a scary symptom, thinking about anxiety changes it by engaging more of our whole brain, which in turn can better direct our response to it.When we chooseto view anxiety as our body coping, alerting, or signaling opportunities to us, we can see anxiety not as a burden, but as a finely tuned system trying to signal our attention when and where it is needed most. With every firing, anxiety is offering an invitation – perhaps even a mandate – to notice and do something different, new, and bold.
This means that if we’re willing to make sense of our anxiety and accept that it is not some accidental misfiring or reptilian relic, we can begin to understand and use it to improve our lives.
Rather than simply worrying about feeling anxious or attempting to push our anxiety away, recognizing our anxiety as a signal allows us to begin transforming it into something useful.
Use anxiety as fuel.
When it comes to knowing how to deal with anxiety, we must continue expanding our view of it. Instead of buying into its reputation as something holding us back, we can recognize anxiety as a type of fuel, something we can understand as motivation.The founder and director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, David Barlow calls anxiety “an ambassador of responsibility, nudging you to taking care of the things that you need to take care of.”
Think about that for a second: What would life be like, and how would we get by, without motivation (a.k.a. anxiety)?
Anxiety can help us along when we want to make a change. It is our body readying for action and nudging us along to do something. It might be something different, something new, or something bold, but it’s definitely urging us toward action.
When we embark on a new beginning – a project, a writing assignment, a lifestyle change, or even just returning to the gym – we have no momentum at the beginning. The starting is perhaps the hardest part and energy is never more needed than at the beginning.
This is exactly what anxiety provides. Energy to engage;it’s offering that needed first push to create some needed momentum.
Anxiety not only harnesses our attention and focus, but it activates our motivation. We want to act; we want to do something.
Our anxiety brain circuitry primes us for action. As anxiety summons our attention, it also activates dopamine to keepus motivated to act.
The reward for all this motivation to act is solving the problem to remove the stressor, so anxiety can stand down. Dopamine helps us keep our efforts focused to get this done. This is how our stress/anxiety becomes fuel.
Directed and appropriate action is how we can use both the signal and the fuel that anxiety provides.Whether it’s completing a work assignment hanging over our heads, making that nerve-wracking call we’ve been putting off, or finishing the home project we keep meaning to get back to, there is an intrinsic pleasure in taking productive action. We likefeeling the stressor abate, and from a brain perspective, we are motivated to reap that very reward.
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for the actions to best harness our anxiety. In fact, neuroscience is now confirming what clinicians have long seen in practice: feelings of anxiety are as individual as each of us, and only subside through individualized solutions.
We can find our own solutions by first being OK with getting uncomfortable and being willing to actively cope with our anxiety. Face it, feel it, and use it.We have to turn into it to know how to deal with anxiety in the way that best suits us.
Proactive coping helps moderate the amygdala responseand is controlled by the part of our brain that thinks, plans, and directs. In other words, thinking through solutions to our anxious feelings helps our brain tamp down anxiety. The part of our brain that allows us to take appropriate action also dampens the worry we feel about our anxiety.
This part of our brain comes online when we choose to face our anxiety to access its message and motivation. When we do this, we can do what makes the most sense for us in our current stressful situation.
Actions that can calm our anxiety are widely varied, and considering possible solutions and planning action is an important exercise in taking action, and thus control. So is making a decision to take action. And so is accomplishing a specific task or even creating a to-do list.
The key is to progressively take action to resolve the situation your anxiety is bringing to your attention. And when you do, chances are that your anxiety about the situation will decrease.
By knowing how to deal with anxiety with these tools, you can begin using your anxiety to help you instead of being trapped in a worry loop. You may find that when you practice these steps, rather than getting upset when you feel anxious, you actually welcome the issue anxiety is bringing to your attention.
In fact, over time, you may even to choose to think of anxiety as a “prickly, but supportive” friend because of how helpful it can be in supporting you accomplishing what you want and need to do.
Looking for more help with anxiety? Check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for book bonuses including a free mini-ecourse to help you understand how anxiety impacts your life and how to hack its most common challenges, or subscribe to my biweekly newsletter.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash