Excessive worry, and an inability to control it. Worrying a disproportionate amount to the actual risk involved. Edginess, restlessness and irritability. Struggling to concentrate and feeling more fatigued than usual. Experiencing muscle aches, tension or soreness and difficulty sleeping.
These are common signs of generalized anxiety. Perhaps you experience these symptoms in all areas of your life, or maybe you only experience them in some domains, such as your work, social life or when thinking about your health. Anxiety is a spectrum- for some, it can be severe enough to prevent them from leaving the house. For others, it is a constant, underlying feeling that prevents them from making decisions, feeling confident, or simply living their best lives. If you are familiar with the effects of anxiety, here are some tips for better managing it:
1. Notice and name it (without judgement). The first step to feeling relief from your anxiety is to simply notice it. As busy humans we have become skilled at going about our day on “autopilot,” not realizing how our emotions are affecting us. You may not have known that that feeling has a name, and becoming more aware of it will help you manage it. Oftentimes people feel the underlying sense of anxiousness without consciously realizing it, but the emotion still influences their thoughts. For example, maybe after a very stressful day at work you feel anxious, and because you feel anxious you start to think, “Something must have gone wrong,” even if there is no logical reason to think that. Catastrophizing thoughts- thinking of the worst possible scenarios- can make us feel even more anxious, and then we’re off to the races in a vicious cycle. It’s important to remember that thoughts are not facts- they are simply fleeting cognitive events. You can simply notice these thoughts without prescribing to them. There is no need to try to fight the thought or feeling or pass judgment on them- after a while, you’ll notice that the feeling does come and go, just like other emotions. Practice noticing when anxious thoughts and feelings creep in, and what the circumstances are during those times- if you feel more anxious when your schedule is packed, for example, scheduling in some self-care time could be a good plan.
2. Understand the function of anxiety. Anxiety used to be an evolutionary advantage for humans. It helped alert us to dangers by keeping us hyper-vigilant of our surroundings. If you’re constantly worried about encountering a lion, for example, you’re less likely to be caught off guard by one, thereby increasing your chance of survival. Over time, however, our likelihood of being eaten by a lion has significantly decreased (thankfully!). As a result, anxiety is no longer advantageous for survival. While there may be some benefits of experiencing mild anxiety, such as motivation to meet a deadline, for most people it has become maladaptive- what was once helpful to us now hinders us from living a fulfilling life. That old part of your brain may be firing off alarm signals unnecessarily, alerting you to risks that aren’t actual risks, such as wondering if someone misinterpreted a comment you made in a meeting. Understanding this history of anxiety is crucial, because when those anxious thoughts creep into our minds, we can remind ourselves that our brain may be giving off a false alarm.
3. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Anxiety can cause significant distress, and seeking help from a mental health practitioner is not a sign of weakness. There are several techniques that therapists use to help people manage anxiety, and they may give you some homework assignments such as keeping a record of your anxious thoughts. For some people, taking anti-anxiety medication may be a good option. Your therapist can talk to you about your options and help you decide what is best for you!