How to Manage Anxiety
We face stressful situations on a daily basis. Starting a new school year, flying on an airplane, taking a test, maneuvering through rush hour traffic, and meeting tight office deadlines are all anxiety-provoking. Anxiety is a typical emotion that we all feel—in fact, it’s healthy in doses. However, if you regularly feel anxious and anxiety starts to prevent you from your daily activities, it may be a sign of something more serious like an anxiety disorder. How can you recognize symptoms of anxiety and better manage it? Here are some helpful tips…
First, it’s important to understand how anxiety works. Like any other emotion, anxiety has a function and an action urge. The function of anxiety is to organize your responses to threats. It motivates you in order to escape from danger. Anxiety triggers chemical reactions in your body, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause a “fight or flight” response. Therefore when you feel anxious, the action urge is to freeze, fight or run if danger is near, avoid the threatening event, or do something that gives you control over the threat.
When anxiety gets in the way of your usual routine, it is no longer protecting you from a threat to your survival. It is then classified as an anxiety disorder because your body is in constant “fight or flight” mode, and your stress hormones remain elevated. Consider how often you feel anxious. Do you feel like you’re in “fight or flight” mode once in a while, once a week, every day, or maybe multiple times a day? You may notice yourself avoiding anxiety-provoking situations as well. The problem is that the more you avoid, the more your anxiety increases.
At these times, you can cope with anxious feelings by checking the facts. Check the Facts is a DBT skill that helps you modify your response to a level that’s appropriate for the situation. Start by asking yourself, is there a real threat to your life? What’s prompting you to feel anxious? What are your interpretations and assumptions to the situation? Do they fit the facts? Do they warrant the intensity of your response? Remember, feelings are NOT facts.
When your emotions (like anxiety) do not fit the facts, and knowing the facts does not change your emotions, then try acting opposite to your emotions. Opposite action is a deliberate attempt to act OPPOSITE of your emotion urge when your emotion is doing more harm than good. It works best when it is done ALL the way (opposite behaviors, words, thinking, facial expression, tone of voice, and body posture). When you feel anxious, don’t run away, avoid, or overthink. Instead, approach the event that gives you anxiety, confront it, and repeatedly expose yourself to what you are afraid of. You can start small and gradually work your way towards conquering your fears.
As the new school year and the new season begin, we all may experience anxiety. It’s normal to feel anxious when starting something new or making a change from what you’re used to. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you just want to overcome your fears surrounding something new, you can learn to manage your anxiety. Adding these skills to your toolbox and practicing them regularly will help you cope with your anxiety more effectively. Over time, you’ll learn to stop anxiety from getting in the way of achieving your goals.