Understanding and Managing Anxiety
Life in the twenty-first century is often colored by anxiety— not major, life-crippling anxiety, but those small, little worries about daily life activities and events. And now, with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, anxiety has been brought front and center for many of us. If we don’t take steps to combat it, anxiety can rule our days and distract us from the things we need and want to be doing.
First and foremost, anxiety is fear. We are afraid we are going to become sick. We worry about our financial future. We are concerned about what our life will be like next year.
Secondly, worrying and being anxious is about the future—something that is going to (or may) happen at some point after “now.” We don’t worry about the past, although we may worry how our past actions or decisions will impact the future.
Finally, most anxiety has some component of circumstances you can’t totally control. Some people worry about their senior parents, others about the stock market, or job security. If we are worrying about things totally under our control, we could effectively manage the anxiety by just doing the necessary action.
Now let’s identify the three most common responses to anxiety
- Action. A lot of people (myself included), do something when they are anxious. It may not be productive activity—but doing something gives the person a sense that they are helping the situation (this may or may not be true).
- Paralysis. Others tend to become paralyzed when they are anxious. They don’t know what to do, so they withdraw, become passive and do nothing. Frequently, these individuals also become highly internally focused, fixating on their thoughts and feelings.
- Rumination. This is the third response, that can go with either action or paralysis. Some people focus on what they are worrying about and continue to think and talk repetitively about their worries. This response can lead to a self-stimulating cycle of increasing anxiety.
What can we do when we are anxious? Here are some ways to manage ourselves:
*Limit the amount of “future” that you allow yourself to think (and worry) about. Since worrying is all about the future, the more “future” that you allow yourself to be concerned about, the more opportunity there is for things to worry about. So just focus on today—take “one day at a time.” In highly stressful circumstances, you may even break the day into smaller segments (“I’m going to make lunch, and then figure out the rest of the day after that.”)
*Determine what you can do to manage the risks you are concerned about. If you are worried about being exposed to the coronavirus, make and implement your personal plan to limit your potential exposure. If you are concerned your financial situation over the next few months, make time to go through your credit card statements and see what monthly charges you may want to cancel for the time being. Look at other ways to conserve your cash. Make sure and take small steps to implement the plan.
*Avoid people, unnecessary situations or input that increase your anxiety. There are some people who are chronic worriers and have a fearful approach to life. If I am anxious myself, I try not to be around these people too much so they don’t feed my own anxiety. Or if I am worried about the economy and my retirement savings, I will limit how much financial news I will expose myself to.
*Distract yourself with positive activities. Sometimes there are situations where all you can do is “wait,” the current wave of shelter in place orders being a prime example. When there is nothing you can really do to make the situation better, it may be good to go ahead and live life—go for a run, do some other work or tasks that need to be done, read a book, help somebody else in need.
*Be thankful for the positive things in your life—especially the “little” things. Gratitude is a great antidote for a lot of negative things in our lives, including anxiety. Look for little daily things that you appreciate—food to eat for breakfast, a nice cool morning, being able to work inside when it is raining outside, having family and friends that care about you, a car that starts, and so forth.
*Build competencies into your life that will help you deal with ongoing challenges. Sometimes, and especially now, there are circumstances in our lives that are going to be there for a while—financial hardship, long work days, being away from family and friends. And it can be helpful to have a longer-term view on dealing with these situations—figuring out what you can build into your life that will help you long-term in dealing with the challenges you face. Work on a tighter budget, figure out some ways to earn a little extra money (clean out the basement and sell items on eBay), develop an exercise program, learn how to use Skype or Zoom to keep in touch with people over long distance.
Practicing the ability to distinguish between what you can and cannot control is vitally important to reducing your anxiety. We cannot control other people’s actions or predict how long certain pandemic protocols will be in effect. Focusing on what we can control – finding fun things to do from home, how we choose to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations, discovering new ways to connect with people – will help reduce anxiety to a manageable level.Tags: anxiety
Categories Appreciation, Optimism, Perseverance, Stress management, Thankfulness