Today we tackle the third and final strategy for coping with anxiety. Before we jump into today’s topic, I would like to take a moment to discuss the last few posts. The subject of anxiety has been front and center in the media as of late, and judging by the high level of engagement I have received in these posts (which I love) it has been front and center in your lives as well. I am honored and appreciate the responsibility of being asked to write about this subject. In speaking with many of you, it has become apparent that anxiety exists in some form in the lives of everyone. Personally, this time of year I face the highest levels of anxiety I face all year. Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and living in a cold climate make for a stressful situation. While writing about these coping strategies, I was reminded of some methods in which I can employ to assist me. I welcome – no I encourage – you all to continue to share your methods for coping with anxiety as well as other topics you would like to see discussed on this blog. It is you, the reader, that can take this blog to the next level.
Emotional coping strategies is our last category we are going to discuss. Anxiety, being an emotion, can make thinking of doing anything emotional as a formidable challenge. That is why we suggest you start with physical and social coping strategies. If you are like me, you start with anything and everything you can. Anxiety doesn’t play fair and neither should you when treating it. After all, this is YOUR life we are talking about here. The first suggestion I have for attempting to change your emotional state is one I use in my life-coaching and motivational speaking career. That is creating lists. This does not initially sound inherently powerful or sexy, but trust me, they work wonders. Ideally, the time to make these lists is before anxiety rears its ugly head, but if it is too late for that, there is no time like the present! There are many things that create powerful emotional reactions in our lives. Create as many lists as you can think of in regards to them. There are two types of lists to make. The first is a list of things that can trigger your anxiety. This is important to know for two reasons. First, and what should be obvious, is that it will help you avoid situations in which these may be present. Second, you can share these lists with people you regularly surround yourself with. Hopefully, these are also people who care a great deal for you. Letting them know what triggers your anxiety will help them better understand why you may not want, or be able to, do certain things. It will also better help them help you in addressing these concerns.
The second set of lists are not only very powerful, but can be fun to create. What a bonus! These are lists of things that put you in a positive mental state. One of the first I recommend creating is what I refer to as a happy playlist. Which is simply a list of songs that make you feel happy. The only caveat here is that they should be songs without negative lyrics. Seek and Destroy by Metallica may make you happy on the treadmill, but subconsciously the brain latches on to funny things when in a stressed emotional state. So for this exercise, do your best to only include songs with positive lyrics. Then when anxiety first begins to creep in, close your eyes, put on your headphones and just push play.
Begin to think of other items which have a powerful emotional reaction in your life. A list of movies that inspire you. This doesn’t only have to be comedy, although I would imagine a great deal of those would make the list. Think outside the box a little. Does watching Braveheart make you feel like you can overcome great odds? The Pursuit of Happiness may remind you that even the worst situations do not last and if you persevere great things can happen. How about foods that put you in a great mood? As we discussed in physical coping strategies, it helps if they are also healthy. At least a few of them anyway. Another list that is fun is places that make you happy. Sometimes a change of scenery can help do the trick. I, personally, like the grocery store. Parks and walking in nature have been proven scientifically, increase the positive brain chemicals we talked about in the post of physical strategies. Make as many of these lists as possible. Sometimes music may work. Sometimes you may need a movie, or a park or an ice cream cone. Have as many weapons at your disposal in the fight against anxiety.
Another great way to change your emotional state and increase the feelings of control in your life is the accomplishment of small goals. I understand if the word ‘goals’ may cause a slight feeling of anxiety in some. It sure used to in me. It is important to note the world small in front of them. Cleaning your entire kitchen may seem overwhelming and fill you with anxiety. Break this challenges down into smaller goals. It is like the old cliché, “How do you eat an entire elephant? One bite at a time.” I don’t have a personal palate for pachyderms, but you get the point. How you accomplish large goals is by doing one small goal at a time. After a few you gain momentum and find yourself closer to your large goal. This also does one other thing, it gives you a win and a feeling of accomplishment. It allows you to know you did something positive and took a step in the right direction. You may not have got that entire kitchen clean, but you organized that drawer so all of your spatulas fit with no fear of not being able to open the drawer once it is closed.
When all else fails, and quite frankly even when all else doesn’t fail, there is one thing you can do that will help you through some of the toughest and most anxiety filled periods of your life. I experienced this first hand. There was a period of my life when everything seemed to be flying south for the winter. This was made even worse by the fact that it was July. My job, relationships, money, transportation all seemed to be filled with problems that were causing a great deal of anxiety. Questions like, “Am I still going to have a job? If so, how am I going to be able to get to that job if my car is broken? If I can’t get to the job I might or might not have, how can I afford to fix the car that gets me to the job?” Those were just two of the many areas of my life that seemed upside down. There seemed to be no solution and I was getting more stressed by the minute. What did I do? Something I am going to implore that you do – find a way to help others.
Taking our focus of our own problems, even temporarily, can provide a great deal of relief. It also provides a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of value. When my life was upside down, I had the great fortune to be able to help at a meal program feeding the homeless and economically challenged. It not only gave me the feelings I mentioned prior, but did a great deal to put my problems in perspective. It also allowed me to see that we all have a great deal of problems in life, but there are always people out there who care and are willing to help. It may take a while to find them, but they are out there. While you are searching for the kind of people that may care and help you, it certainly helps to be one to others.
The last few posts we have explored the three categories for coping with anxiety. We looked at physical methods in the first post, social methods in the second and emotional methods today. We looked at many activities in the realms of these three methods. These posts have only begun to scratch the surface. Through a little research and effort on your part and the inclusion of a professional, you will discover many other options as well. Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed of, ashamed of or feel hopeless about. We all experience to some degree in our lives and with treatment it is curable. I encourage you to share these posts with those you think may benefit. The conclusion of these posts is not the end of the discussion, but perhaps a way to begin a discussion on the topic of anxiety and how we can help ourselves and each other.