“No one’s home is complete without a toolbox”- Ron Swanson
The same can be said about each person. When dealing with emotions, it is important to have a variety of tools in your tool box to help cope in the best possible way. This blog is going to focus on a few anxiety tools you may or may not have heard about. Most people know about the basic, tried and true, methods such as deep breathing, venting, and taking a time-out from the situation. These are solid basics to have in your tool box, like a hammer, pliers, or screw driver but what about the tools that you don’t use as often? Are they not just as useful? The following methods are like those tools; not as common but in the right situation they can really come in handy.
- Scheduling time to worry
Set aside a planned 30 minutes a day to worry about things. Ideally, this would be the same time every day. Now, you may be thinking, this seems oxymoronic but trust me it has a purpose. So when you feel the anxiety and worry rising, ask yourself two questions: “Is it an emergency? Is it worry time?”. If the answer to both is no, write down the worry on a piece of paper and keep a list. Satisfy the need to worry now with the reassurance you get to worry later. When it’s time to worry go over the list. By this time, your emotions will have subsided enough to think more clearly about the situation. You will find most of the things you were “worried” about don’t really matter and there will be some things left over you need to think about and fix. This turns your worry session into a problem-solving session.
- Grounding your senses
This one is great when it feels like everything is spiraling out of control. It starts with deep breathing (Inhale..one..two..Exhale..three..four). After getting a rhythm with your breathing, we are going to go through the five senses and name the things we see, feel, hear, smell, and taste out loud. It is important to say these things out loud, or move your mouth, because it engages another part of your brain. As wonderfully complex and magical our brains are, they are equally simplistic and cannot truly focus on more than one thing at once. First, name FIVE things you can SEE. Continue your breathing, then name FOUR things you can FEEL/TOUCH. It is important to note these four thins are not emotions but textures you feel (ie the roughness of your jeans or the silky-soft texture of your favorite blanket). Next, name THREE things you can HEAR. Then, TWO things you can SMELL. Lastly, describe ONE thing you can TASTE (whatever fun flavor is happening in your mouth at the time). This process usually takes about five-ten minutes to complete. By the end, you should feel yourself more grounded in reality and able to focus on the trigger of your anxiety rather than your anxiety.
- Quick distractions
In a world of smart phones, applications can be used to provide a quick distraction to help you refocus your mind. This method is similar to taking a time out but adds another level of engagement. I suggest using a puzzle game for a couple of reasons. The first being it gives your mind something else to focus on (see method two for why that is important). Second, research shows training your brain with puzzles and activities of that nature can help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. This is meant to be a distraction that lasts 5 minutes or more so if there is an app that can suck you in for hours, I would use a different one.
- Acting as if… (Faking it)
Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” This method is acting as if you do not have anxiety in the moment. Our brains don’t like it when our behaviors do not match our feelings. This is called cognitive dissonance. In response, your brain will attempt to change your feelings to match your behaviors. This is where the phrase “fake it until you make it” comes from. Research shows it is possible to change our emotions by acting the way we want to feel. So the next time you feel anxious, cast yourself in the role of a calm and confident you, make sure the lights are on, the camera rolling, and take ACTION!
Now that you have added to your emotional toolbox, the next time you feel anxiety creeping into your life you are better prepared for the situation at hand.