Anxiety is an emotional response that’s oriented in the future. It’s a response to a perceived threat. When you think that something bad will happen that you won’t be able to cope with, you’ll become aroused inside, encouraged to protect yourself.
When you struggle with this difficult emotion you become good at distancing yourself from those situations and activities that bring it to the surface. You try to not think about uncomfortable things and instead focus on calming activities. While this response is useful sometimes, when using these tactics regularly they can interrupt your life, making it difficult to function.
For this reason, you need to identify and practice numerous proactive responses when this emotion emerges. While you won’t always be able to control how you’re feeling, you can find ways to respond to it more effectively. This is a better tactic than spending a lot of time and effort trying to avoid it.
Here are some suggestions to help you clarify this emotional challenge, reduce any discomfort you may be feeling, learn to think in more useful and realistic ways, and be able to move forward with your life.
Know What You’re Working With
When you experience anxiety you should take a moment to notice what you’re feeling and thinking, as well as what sensations and urges you’re experiencing. This will help you determine how to better understand and relate to this emotion.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how most of us operate. Instead the moment we feel anxious we respond with worry, distraction, or some other coping mechanism to help calm things down. Since we’re used to doing it we do so almost without giving it any thought. We don’t even think if there’s another option or which response would be the most useful.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed it can be challenging to know how to proceed. However, the best place to start is to take note of the experience. Slow down for a bit and focus on the feeling. This is the first step towards working through it instead of solely focusing on running away from it.
Practice Emotion-Focused Coping
Intuitively we respond to this unwanted feeling by finding ways to reduce it (e.g. cardio, breathing exercises, comfort food, friends). While these are fine to use they aren’t always practical and can be weak and temporary. You may also make yourself feel as though anxiety is intolerable which may result in you feeling hopeless.
Stress management and emotion-focused coping are great strategies. However, you need to understand the difference in turning to them because you’re feeling anxious and choosing to engage in them despite their presence. These activities are great for short-term relief or distraction but over the long-term, you must choose to face your anxiety directly so you function effectively.
While you’re probably familiar with the feelings of anxiety you may not be as familiar with the thoughts that accompany them. However, it’s important to notice them so you can make sense of the problem and decide what to do about it. Try asking yourself, “What do I think will happen?” This will draw your attention to the fact that anxiety is a future-based emotion.
Accept Meaningful Challenges
Instead of avoiding certain experiences because you feel anxious about them, try prioritizing value-driven activities instead. By choosing action over avoidance you can learn that you can live with meaning and purpose while tolerating difficult emotions.
This is something that may feel overwhelming initially. This may be because the challenge is too big or the cost of failure is too high. For this reason, you should start by making small changes instead of big, lofty ones. This will help to increase your chances for success and help prepare you to take on the bigger challenges when necessary.
Change How You Relate to Anxiety
Regardless of why you’re struggling with anxious feelings, remind yourself that this is a normal emotional response. Be kind and supportive to yourself throughout the experience but when nothing seems to be working and you feel that you need professional help for your anxiety, know that the Advantage Mental Health Center in Clearwater and Tampa Bay, FL is there for you.
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