There is a quote I love that goes, “you can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it”. How true is that for anxiety? Often when we’re anxious we try to “out think” our anxiety. We imagine worst-case scenarios, spend hours obsessing and planning how to deal with potential problem scenarios and may have moments of panic when we realize that we’re not worrying or catastrophizing. This pattern of planning, worrying and being in a constant state of anxiety becomes our new normal and it begins to feel strange when we’re not worrying or feeling anxious.
Ugh. This is such an exhausting way to live life. What started out as an attempt to manage our anxiety takes over and creates more anxiety. So, what’s a worrier to do? To solve our anxiety, we must get out of the mind that created it and started thinking and acting in different ways. When we try to solve anxiety with more worrying we just get more anxiety. To truly resolve anxiety, we must utilize a skill called opposite of emotion. This means rather than solving anxiety with more anxiety we identify the opposite of anxiety (calm, relaxed) and start acting as-if we were feeling this way. You might have to fake it til’ you make it for a while but with consistent practice you will start to feel calmer and more relaxed. Here are some tips to get you thinking, feeling and acting more relaxed and less anxious.
Think: Anxiety thrives off anxious thoughts. It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire and leads to…you guessed it, more anxiety! If you’re feeling anxious try to resist the urge to plan, ruminate and catastrophize. I understand that when we’re feeling anxious we often think we can “solve” the puzzle of our anxiety by worry-thinking but trust me, this is an unsolvable puzzle. Instead, try to step back and just notice that you’re thinking, obsessing, etc. If you can try to bring in a little humor. Remind yourself that you can’t solve your anxiety by worrying and ask yourself, “If I was feeling relaxed and calm what would I be thinking?” Allow your mind to wander down this new path-you may be surprised where it leads you!
Feel: Anxiety is a terrible feeling. It can bring on upset stomach, tense muscles, headaches and the list goes on. There are also the emotions that go along with anxiety such as feeling not good enough, afraid, etc. To practice opposite of emotion, identify the physical and emotional symptoms of your anxiety then identify how you can create the opposite feelings. For example, if you notice that you’re taking short, shallow breaths, practice taking long deep breaths to help your body feel calm. If your stomach is upset or your muscles are tense, try a guided meditation (there are some great progressive muscle relaxation mediations on you tube to help you focus on relaxing your muscles).
Act: Often when anxious we act in ways that increase our anxiety such as talking about how anxious we are or not engaging in self-care because we are “too anxious.” To apply the opposite of emotion principle think about things that help you experience being calm, safe and relaxed. How about watching a funny movie or taking a bath? These simple actions can evoke a feeling of calm and safety. Try to develop a practice of taking at least a few minutes a day to do something that helps you feel safe and calm. If you find yourself talking about your anxiety try to stop yourself and do something soothing instead. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your feelings but talking about anxiety excessively tends to cause the same problems as obsessive thinking-it just feeds the anxiety monster.
I encourage you to try to identify what you can do to think, act and feel differently this week. With consistent practice you can fake it til’ you become calm!