Your stomach is in knots or it’s flopping around so much you feel sick. You are starting to sweat and feel your heart racing even though you aren’t exercising. And your mind is literally running in circles faster than you can keep up.
Anxiety feels so uncomfortable that you want to run away from yourself except you can’t. And the longer you focus on the anxious thoughts or sensations in your body, the more anxious you feel. Because this revved-up, anxious feeling lies to you and tries to convince you that you are sick or going crazy. And when it succeeds at convincing you, then you start to worry about these feelings never going away and being a sign that you are weak and incapable.
None of this is true about you. Your anxiety doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Do you believe me? If not, it’s time to learn to trust yourself again and that starts with how you think about anxiety. So instead of spending more time on the lies that anxiety has been telling you about yourself, let’s focus on understanding, recognizing, and managing it.
First of all, we all experience anxiety sometimes. We have these cool brains that are constantly working and making predictions. Our brains use up a lot of energy, so to be more efficient the brain tries to take shortcuts by making predictions. But sometimes the predictions are wrong.
Many of these predictions are outside of our awareness unless we focus on our perceptions. So when you feel uncomfortable, you notice the way it feels in your body and mind, and then that’s all you can focus on. This is how anxiety works. Anxiety gets you to focus more on feeling anxious.
At the most basic level, anxiety is a perception that something is a threat to you. You may assume that you feel emotionally threatened by your own symptoms or socially threatened in a relationship. If there was a real threat, your revved-up nervous system would be useful in helping you get to safety or defend yourself. But with anxiety, you assume what you fear is real. It’s like being prepared for battle, but you don’t need to battle. Instead, you are left with a heightened nervous system that has nowhere to go.
Recognizing Anxiety Symptoms
When your nervous system is turned up but there is no danger, how does that feel in your mind and body? It is unique to each individual. However, here are some examples of anxiety symptoms:
- Racing thoughts
- Worry or focus on “what if”
- Nausea or stomach flopping
- “Hear” your heart beating
- Shaking or trembling
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
- Panic or fear
Anxiety is such a common symptom that I don’t even like to call it a symptom or a condition because literally, everyone will experience a heightened nervous system when there isn’t a real danger. For some people, it helps to have a name for their sensations, while others are, left feeling more anxious about having anxiety. Whichever you are, recognizing the symptoms without dwelling on them is the first step to managing them.
3 D’s for Managing Anxiety
When I ask people how they manage their anxiety, they usually tell me they don’t. So how you try to manage your anxiety is often out of your awareness too. Think about it, do you try to manage anxiety by avoiding what makes you anxious or by turning to someone else to make you feel better? These are common, but you can’t always turn to someone else or avoid what you fear. So let’s explore some other options so you can feel more confident in how you manage anxiety.
If you believe the lies that anxiety tells you about there being something wrong with you, you will want to eliminate all anxiety to feel better about yourself. But if you recognize that anxiety is a part of being a human with an elaborate brain, then more options open up to you.
Here are some ways to manage anxiety in order to be more confident in your own skin:
- Decrease Anxiety: The first way to manage anxiety is to not focus on eliminating anxiety, but finding a way to tone down the anxiety you are feeling. Some common ways to soften anxiety are exercising, deep breathing, journaling, listening to music, meditating, and reading.
- Discern Anxiety: Sort your worry from the facts based on evidence, not perception and opinions. Decide which you want to focus your thoughts on, what you fear vs what is true. By focusing more on your thinking than your feelings, you will be choosing to believe the truth not the lies about yourself.
- Dare Anxiety: When you aren’t able to turn down anxiety and need to face your fears, work on daring yourself to tolerate the anxiety and do it anyway. In doing so, you create situations where you can develop new learning instead of predicting the same negative experience over and over again.
Believe it or not, some anxiety is associated with making progress toward a goal. When you are learning something new or stepping out into a new situation, you may notice anxiety. Focusing on learning more than your anxiety will boost your confidence over time. And then you will be able to prove to yourself that anxiety has been lying to you. And that’s more powerful in dealing with anxiety that someone like me telling you it’s true.
What helps you stop listening to the lies that anxiety tells?
Marci Payne, MA, LPC is a licensed counselor based in Lee’s Summit Missouri (which is in the Kansas City area). She is currently offering online, individual counseling to Missouri residents via phone and video sessions. Whether you are being stretched outside of your comfort zone or going through a difficult transition in your relationship, you are likely to encounter many feelings, including anxiety, along the way. Learn how to be a resource to yourself in my free “Emotion Self-Care Guide“.