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Anxiety keeps us preoccupied with a hypothetical future. Moreover, anxiety fights to keep our mind focused on worries and danger that lurks ahead. And it doesn’t stop with a passing thought, anxiety thrives on our concerns and fears. In anticipation, the lead up to some task, some place we need to go or people we must see – anxiety works over-time to assert its presence.

That’s not to discount the experience of anxiety in the present moment. In fact, this form of anxiety – the omg the room is closing in on me, I think I’m having a panic attack – can be the most potent dose of anxiety one can feel. This form of acute anxiety is generally a more intense, frightening experience that typically (fortunately) does not last long. In such cases, its helpful to sit or lay down, focus on slowing down your breathing, and repeating to yourself a comforting phrase such as “I am safe”; if possible, it can be helpful to find a trusted friend or family member to support you while you weather the storm.

The more constant, nagging form of anxiety – the seconds, minutes, and hours of fear, worry, and rumination – keeps us focused on two troubling words: What if?! This form of anxiety feeds itself in a perpetual cycle. The more “what if?” questions we ask ourselves, the more anxiety keeps us stuck, fixated on worry and fear.

Experiencing anxiety in this way can begin to negatively impact our vision for the future; it can replace an optimistic and pleasant outlook with doom and gloom. The effects of this can be far reaching and leave us feeling physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually exhausted.

It sounds bleak, I know. But there are powerful cognitive strategies one can use to combat this particular form of anxiety. In fact, there are many. For everyone’s attention spans sake, I’ve narrowed one strategy into 3 steps:

  1. Take a breath – Inhale, breathing in through your nose, for a count of 7. Hold on the inhale for a count of 2. Exhale through the mouth for a count of 6. This 15 second breath calms the body and mind by engaging our parasympathetic nervous system.
  2. Create a vision – Decide what you want to happen. Not necessarily a goal, simply a vision of how things would look and feel if the situation went well. This means really seeing (in your mind’s eye) and feeling the experience of things going well.  
  3. Talk to yourself – Create a short phrase or word that captures the essence of what it is you want and are hoping to have come to fruition. You can repeat this out loud or in your head. The more frequently you repeat this word or phrase, the more you will believe it!

Doing this exercise once does not cure anxiety because we don’t just think anxious thoughts once, we think them over and over again. So, to combat anxiety, we must repeat this strategy with the same frequency the anxious thoughts arise. Each time you notice yourself in the cycle of anxious thoughts, repeat these 3 steps. Over time, the vision and helpful phrase you’ve created will become more powerful. With practice, the thoughts that pop into your mind will be focused on what you want rather than what you fear!

Written by: Robbie Shaw

Email: robbie@okclinical.com
Tel: 250 718 9291

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