This is Part 7 of my series of articles on anxiety.
1. Contain your worry
Schedule a "worry time" once a day for up to 15 minutes and limit your worrying to that time.
This worry time should be scheduled to take place in a specific location (say, a quiet room in your house). Set a timer for the end of the worry time.
If, during the day, you feel an irresistible urge to worry, promise yourself that you will devote your attention to this worry at the scheduled time.
After you decided to postpone the worry to the scheduled time, get busy thinking about something else instead. It's important to plan ahead what you will be thinking about or what you will be doing at those times.
An example would be making a shopping list, singing a song, cleaning a desk drawer, etc.
But, watch out so that those distractions do not turn into avoidance behaviors. Remember: anxiety is not dangerous and shouldn't be avoided. You are just getting used to postponing your worry to a later time.
2. Create an algorithm for dealing with worry
Ask yourself, Is there anything specific I can immediately do to resolve the issue that I am worrying about?
If yes - do it, or at least write down a specific plan. If not - treat this worry as unproductive and postpone it.
A clue that your worry may be of an unproductive kind is if you keep asking yourself questions such as Why? or What if? Contain and postpone those!
3. Create a Worry Box
Another way in which a strategy to contain your worry strategy may be helpful is if you worry about a situation that cannot be resolved.
One more way to contain worry is to close your eyes and imagine a Worry Box (try to imagine it in detail). The box should have a lid. Visualize putting your worries in the box and putting the lid on. Then, put the box in an imaginary closet. You can always access the box and open it if you need. But the worry is safe there, there's no need to keep it in mind all the time.
4. Externalize your anxiety
When you feel anxious, remind yourself, "Oh, that's my anxiety. It's trying to keep me safe from danger."
5. Create and follow a routine
Often people that are predisposed to anxiety are especially sensitive to the lack of routine. This adds to unpredictability and stress which, in turn, increase anxiety.
6. Take risks!
When you are trying new things, you expand your world and learn to believe in yourself. This new courage will, in turn, make you more likely to further break free from your comfort zone and to tolerate uncertainty better.
7. Get active
As we discussed in Part 1 and Part 3 of this article, when we are anxious, physiological systems in our body get activated. To overcome that, we can use our bodies in three effective ways. We discussed the first two (breathing and progressive muscle tension and relaxation) in Part 4.
Another way is to exercise. If you ever tried it, you know that grounded feeling that you get after sweating at the gym and having a nice shower after.
Let's review the most important take-home messages from this seven-part series of articles:
Facts about Anxiety
- Anxiety is common.
- Anxiety is not dangerous.
- Anxiety keeps us safe.
- Anxiety itself is not the problem. It only becomes a problem when you see danger where there is no real danger.
- Anxiety-related perceptions and thoughts revolve around the themes of danger (physical, mental, or social), threat, or vulnerability.
- Our brain interprets those thoughts as a signal to prepare for danger.
- When faced with danger, our natural response is to escape.
- Our thoughts, physical reactions, and behaviors create a vicious cycle, with each element of it influencing the other two.
Strategies to Overcome Anxiety
- Try to separate the evidence and the reality from the way you feel.
- Practice progressive muscle tension and relaxation.
- Practice abdominal breathing.
- Face your fears.
- Screw safety (behaviors).
- Avoid avoidance.
- Cultivate curiosity.
- Learn to increase your tolerance of uncertainty.
- Start letting things unfold and observe them.
- Remind yourself that anxiety is uncomfortable, but not unbearable.
- Give additional strategies (above) a try.
Anna Prudovski is a Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Turning Point Psychological Services. She has a special interest in treating anxiety disorders and OCD, as well as working with parents.
Anna lives with her husband and children in Vaughan, Ontario. When she is not treating patients, supervising clinicians, teaching CBT, and attending professional workshops, Anna enjoys practicing yoga, going on hikes with her family, traveling, studying Ayurveda, and spending time with friends. Her favorite pastime is reading.