Anxiety has a bad reputation. It is an emotion that can take over our brains at the most inconvenient times. But anxiety is not so bad if you can learn how to regulate it and manage it in healthy ways. It is just an emotion. We tend to give it too much power.
Most people want to get rid of anxiety by running away from it, stuffing it, or self-medicating to alleviate it. These are all terrific avoidance strategies, but terrible self-care strategies. Avoidance actually only increases anxiety in the long run. Others try to manage anxiety by obsessing over all the “what ifs.” Honestly, who ever thought that coming up with every worst case scenario could possibly alleviate anxiety? Our imaginations are notorious for worsening anxiety.
In addition to particular therapies such as EMDR or Ketamine Assisted Therapy, try these tools:
When you feel anxiety rising, first notice where you feel it in your body. Some people feel it first in their gut. Others feel their heart racing or pounding against their chest. Just notice where you feel it and pay attention to that feeling. Then you can learn to recognize the signals your body gives you when you feel anxiety. And then try some of these tools to take care of yourself when you feel that emotion:
The container. Imagine a container of any type and any size that has a lid. Picture that container in your mind. Imagine placing all of your anxious feelings and worst case scenarios into the container. Put the lid on it. Don’t take it out again until you feel that you have time to process the feelings with a safe person. This is not for the purpose of avoiding it. It is for the purpose of temporarily containing it so that you can think straight.
Worry stone. Physical activity—even slight movement —interrupts the brain from playing negative thoughts. Find or purchase a small smooth stone that is tactilely pleasing to you. Call this your worry stone. Rub your worry stone between thumb and forefinger whenever anxiety strikes. While it may not solve your problems, it will diminish the intensity of the worry and help you move toward positive solutions. Carry it with you.
Safe Place. After you have contained your feelings or decreased their intensity utilizing the worry stone, transport your mind into a safe place that you imagine. Decorate your safe place with everything that is soothing, peaceful and safe to you. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What tactile sensations do you experience? It might be a place in nature, or inside a cozy cabin, or just a room in your house. Imagine this place in as much detail as possible. Are you sitting or standing? Do you have a blanket? Is there a warm fire? Are you inside or outside? Is there a breeze? Is the sun out? What are you wearing? Are you holding anything? Is there a beloved pet with you? When you transport yourself to this place, remind yourself of every detail that you can think of, and notice how your body begins to calm down and feel peaceful and safe as you concentrate on these images, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations.
Emotional self-regulation is a skill that can be learned. Once you’ve practiced setting aside anxious thoughts and feelings, an object like a worry stone or a visualization like the container and safe place can be useful aids in accessing this skill. It can activate a “relaxation script.” In other words, once you see and handle the worry stone, visualize the container or safe place, you remember what it feels like to chill out.
Tip: If you know you’re going to be in a stressful situation, place your worry stone somewhere you know you will be able to access it if you want to. The presence of a favorite stone can help you relax without ever taking it out of your pocket. The container and safe place tools can also be utilized any place at any time. Simply take a moment to visualize.