Anxiety is among the most common mental illnesses people struggle with at work and in their day-to-day life. Some days are harder than others, but having a coping strategy in place can make anxiety easier to live with. These four steps are a good starting place if your anxiety is at a level you’re comfortable addressing on your own.
Please note: This is a contributed post, but all opinions are my own. View full disclosure policy.
1. Study Your Anxiety and Learn Your Patterns
The first reaction many people have to anxiety is to try and ignore it, thinking it will go away on its own. For one-time situations, like initiating a high-stakes conversation with someone, that might work. But when you’re frequently anxious or on edge, ignoring those feelings won’t do any good. It’s time to learn what signs and symptoms your anxiety manifests in your body. When you can recognize those feelings coming on, you can take steps to calm down before you get overwhelmed.
Keep a journal to note any time you feel anxious, whether it’s just a little discomfort or a full anxiety attack. Write down your feelings, your fears, and what made you start thinking and feeling this way. Think of it as a kindness to your future self.
2. Avoid the Triggers You Can
Once you notice a pattern in what aggravates your anxiety, you can plan strategies for avoiding those triggers if at all possible. Some might be as simple as avoiding certain people or situations –or making sure a supportive person is with you if they can’t be avoided. For some unavoidable triggers, like an upcoming event that stresses you out, you can add a gratitude entry to your journal. List the positive aspects of the event, including the parts you’re looking forward to and how the experience could be good for you. Retraining your brain to focus on the positive and turn anxious energy into excitement is one coping strategy often taught through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
If you can’t avoid your anxiety triggers altogether, it’s still important to be prepared for them. This means having a plan in place for how you’ll deal with your anxiety when it does crop up. For example, if you know that public speaking makes you anxious, practice deep breathing exercises beforehand so that you’re better equipped to deal with the anxiety when it hits.
3. Challenge Your Anxiety
Another way to handle anxiety is to challenge some of your triggers head-on. Sometimes referred to as exposure therapy, this means taking small steps toward facing up to your fears. For example, if heights make you anxious, start by looking at pictures or videos of high places, then progress to standing on a chair or balcony. The more you expose yourself to your fear, the less fearful you’ll become.
It might seem counterintuitive, but confronting your anxiety head-on can be an effective strategy. Even if you never fully get over your fear, practice will build your confidence in coping with it.
4. Find a Professional
If your anxiety is overwhelming you too much for you to handle it on your own, it’s time to bring in an expert. A therapist or outpatient rehab center can help you understand and manage your anxiety, especially if you feel too close to your struggles to find the patterns. They can also provide you with tools and resources you might not have access to otherwise.
Originally, I went to a therapist for career counseling. We figured out my core values to understand why my old job left me feeling unsatisfied, and it turned out that my anxiety was most often triggered by things that didn’t align with those values. For example, a strong sense of autonomy and self-determination was one of my values. People and situations that made me feel powerless over my own choices set off my anxiety, which would often feed issues with depression, as well. We spent several sessions on how to set boundaries with others so I was more comfortable valuing and protecting my own time.
Learning to live with anxiety is far from impossible. With a few simple steps, you can be on your way to managing your anxiety so you can enjoy more of your life.
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