Picture it: Your alarm wakes you up in the morning and you almost instantly have a sinking feeling in your stomach. You didn’t sleep well the night before because your brain wouldn’t “shut off”, racing with thoughts about the next day, weeks, and even months ahead. Now you’re pulling yourself out of bed, with the thoughts from the previous night making their way to the forefront of your mind. You’re distracted, and if you can’t gain your focus you will most certainly be late, again. Throughout the day you feel on edge, worried and waiting for something bad to happen.
If this scenario wasn’t difficult for you to imagine or sounds uncomfortably familiar, then you have likely battled with anxiety. When we have a persistent fear that disrupts our day to day, then this is classified as generalized anxiety. Other symptoms include irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension and digestive issues. Panic attacks occur when intense fears cause sudden sweating, chest pain, racing heart and feeling out of control.
Anxiety can stem from “What if?” and “What next?” questions. We fear the unknown and create stories about what we think will happen. The negative stories we tell ourselves can lead to anxiety and panic, and if we want to learn to manage anxiety, we can start with our thoughts.
1. Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself. If they are overwhelmingly negative, try to reframe them to be more neutral and in line with reality. Ex: Instead of saying “I’m going to bomb this presentation” try saying, “I have prepared for this and don’t need to be perfect. Just because I’m nervous doesn’t mean I won’t do well.”
2. Have designated “worry time” throughout the week. Set a timer for about 15 minutes and write down your anxious thoughts. No need to analyze or try to prove anything to yourself. Pick a spot and time of day where you can sit with your thoughts without interruption and avoid doing so just before going to sleep.
3. Practice meditation, start with a 5 – 10 minute guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. You can find these on YouTube, and apps like Calm or Headspace.
Your anxious thoughts don’t have to rule or ruin your day. You have the power to manage anxiety and panic with simple strategies that can be implemented across environments. Seeking a mental health professional and medication are also options if you find that even with these strategies, regulating your mood is still a challenge. Be patient with yourself during the process, and as always, lead with love.