Most of us experience some degree of anxiety every so often. When we feel anxious, we may feel helplessly stuck in the discomfort of the present moment. Rational thinking may fly out the window, and we question whether or not we will ever feel free from the crushing and overwhelming stress of current circumstance. Without recognizing that we are doing so, we may begin thinking and feeling things that only add fuel to the fire. We may begin ruminating on what-ifs and worst case scenarios, convincing ourselves that things are far, far worse than they actually are. Sometimes, our anxiety may feel so overpowering that we feel we can do little other than sit passively by and experience it until it passes.
Reduce Anxiety Naturally
- Focus on what is happening in the present moment.
It is often said that those who are depressed focus on the past, and those that are anxious focus on the future. Truth be told, most anxiety occurs when we focus on (and catastrophize) future events. Rather than obsessing over what might potentially occur in the future, try focusing on what is happening in the present moment – the here and the now. Where are you? Take a look at your surroundings. Are you inside or outside? How is the weather? Are you sitting down or standing up? Take it all in, and remind yourself that in the present moment, you are safe and at peace.
- Use a calming visualization.
Meditation has innumerable proven benefits, one of the most pertinent being the ability to effectively self-soothe. Psychiatrist Kelli Highland, M.D., suggests the memorization of the following mindfulness meditation:
“Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign your emotions, thoughts, and sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.”
Practicing calming visualizations such as this one will help you to re-center yourself when anxiety levels begin to peak. Take several deep, soothing breaths and feel the air enter and exit your lungs. Remember that in most cases, your mind is merely playing tricks on you. You are okay, you are safe, and you have the mental ability to transform anxiety into tranquility with a few simple exercises.
- Practice positive self-talk.
When we are thrown into a state of anxiety, the negative voices in our heads may become amplified. Try to alter the negative voices, the ones intent on tearing you down, into positive voices that build you up and reassure you. For more information on changing negative self talk, please see our recent blog post.
- Question your thoughts.
When we are in a state of anxiety, our minds are liable to begin formulating all kinds of insane and illogical ideas. Rational thinking will fly out the window, and we will be left with a squirming heap of unfounded fears and absurd apprehensions. And of course, these outlandish thoughts will only heighten our anxious state. How do we combat this teeming heap of disquieting conceptions? Take a serious look at the present circumstance. Say, for example, you are about to speak at a meeting for the first time. Your anxiety levels are through the roof, and you have all kinds of insane thoughts running through your head.
“I’m going to choke on my words and sit in silence for an hour,” you think to yourself. “Everyone is going to laugh at me. I will never be able to show my face in this meeting again. I’m going to have a panic attack and they’ll have to call an ambulance to take me away.”
Remind yourself, instead, that no one has ever died speaking at a meeting. Remind yourself that even if you do blank out for a minute or two, it is far from a catastrophe. No one will even remember what happened by the time tomorrow rolls around. Take it moment by moment.
Feelings Are Not Facts
- Accept your anxiety for what it is.
Just like sadness, anger, and elation, anxiety is merely a temporary emotion. Feelings are not facts, and they are always, always impermanent. Accepting that you are anxious in the moment will allow you to move forward – wrestling your anxiety and trying desperately to stifle it will often only exacerbate related feelings. Of course, accepting your anxiety does not mean resigning yourself to a fear-based existence. It simply means that you are becoming more self-aware, and recognizing anxiety as an uncomfortable – yet entirely tolerable – emotion.
- Don’t let your anxiety dictate what you do.
One of the worst ways to handle an episode of anxiety is to sit alone inside and focus all of your attention on your present state of discomfort. Instead, do what you were planning on doing before the anxiety hit. If you were going to go see a movie with some friends, still go to the movie. If you were going to go grocery shopping, still go grocery shopping. Focus your energy on productive activities, and do what you can to get out of your head. Your anxiety will not cripple you, despite how it may feel – you will still be able to perform daily tasks and get things done. Move forward with your life, and do everything you can to avoid sitting around neck-deep in anxiety. Nothing good will come of that!
- Observe your feelings without judging yourself.
Practice observation with compassion, and without judgment. This can be difficult, considering the first thing we intrinsically do when undergoing any situation is judge whether or not it is good or bad and right or wrong. Letting go of this judgment will not only help to reduce anxiety, but it will benefit all areas of life. Living compassionately is the ultimate goal, after all.
Alleviating Anxiety in Sobriety
Back in the days when we were prone to excessive self-medication, we would quickly down a handful of pills or a bottle of liquor at the very first sign of emotional discomfort. We avoided anxiety at all costs, thus we never truly learned how to effectively alleviate it. Anxiety reduction is just one of the many essential life skills we have the opportunity to learn in addiction recovery. Learning to regulate our emotions in a healthy and beneficial way requires hard work and a fair amount of practice, but now that we are free from the devastating grasp of chemical dependency we can truly do anything we set our minds to! For more information on anxiety reduction or on our specific program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.