Do you remember when you were young and there were the “Got Milk” advertisements everywhere? I think at this point in our current climate, it would be more appropriate to start making signs that say “Got Anxiety?” So many of us can relate. Considering all that we’re facing, we have some good reasons to be anxious. There is increased stress and divisiveness on many levels. But do we have a choice in how our anxiety impacts our lives?
People that don’t understand what it’s like to have anxiety usually like to say, “Just stop thinking that way or just focus on something else.” While people mean well, that’s not particularly helpful. If you could turn it off like a light switch, you would. You didn’t wake up this morning and think to yourself, “I think I’ll be anxious today. That sounds fun.” This is not something any of us ask for. But unfortunately, sometimes it’s a struggle that we are given.
When we are anxious, it feels very out of control. All we know is that we feel bad and we want it to stop immediately. It makes sense, then, that we do anything we can to never feel that way again. There are lots of ways we do this. We stay busy, put our heads down, and plow through. Or we find things to distract us like screens, eating, sleeping, drinking, shopping, etc. We can outrun our anxiety for a while, but eventually, it will catch up with us.
There are many things in this world that are outside of our control. Covid, the people around us, the weather. We cannot control what other people do or how they choose to live their lives. We can’t even control what other people think of us. That is really difficult. But there are many things we can still control. We can control how we respond to a situation and what we choose to do with our bodies. For instance, if you are anxious about going to work, you may not be able to control the fact that you have to go. But you can control how you choose to deal with it, such as doing a breathing exercise, stretching, eating and drinking water, or telling a friend or family member that you are struggling.
After we take control of our bodies, what do we do with our thoughts?
1. Don’t judge yourself
When we are anxious and our thoughts are running away from us, the process sounds something like this: “I’m thinking a negative thought. Now I’m thinking about how I’m thinking a negative thought. What is wrong with me that I am thinking this thought? I must be crazy.” Does that sound familiar? This process only adds to our anxiety because now we are beating ourselves up and telling ourselves that there is something wrong with us. Having a thought pop into your head is not something you can control. It does not mean anything about you. All you can control is what you do with it. You have a choice whether or not you dwell on these thoughts or believe something else.
2. Learn to challenge it
One way to challenge your thoughts is to ask yourself, “Is it true? What do I know to be true?” For example, maybe your loved one is suddenly sick. It can be really easy to think of all the “what ifs” that could happen. Before we know it, we are spiraling and envisioning ourselves at their funeral. I’m not being dramatic. This is where unchecked negative thoughts will always lead. They take us to the worst case scenario every time. No wonder those fears and anxieties become paralyzing. But instead of dwelling on all the bad things that might happen, you could choose to focus on what you know to be true. For instance, I know that they have symptoms but I do not know at this moment that they have a serious disease. I know that they have an appointment with a doctor and are doing all they can to get better. Ultimately, you are anxious because you love them and want them to be healthy. Those are legitimate feelings. But letting your thoughts run away with you will not make them better.
3. Get Help
At Lime Tree Counseling, we are a group of skilled therapists who are passionate about helping people cope and are expert at providing anxiety counseling. Located in Ambler, PA, we offer grief, addiction, marriage, and trauma counseling for the Pennsylvania and Colorado area. We offer in-person and online counseling so that we can best serve you in whatever space that feels most comfortable and manageable. If you’re not sure we are the best fit for you, set up a free 15-minute phone consultation and learn about how we can help. Contact us today!