As with all things mental health, anxiety is highly individualized, with many symptoms and aspects of the condition existing on a spectrum. The treatment and management of anxiety must be highly individualized as well.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to do this. And who better to rely on for anxiety tips and tricks than therapists who have anxiety themselves?
“Despite being a therapist that specializes in anxiety, I have certainly experienced my own anxiety from time to time and am no superhuman,” Ashley L. Annestedt, a cognitive behavioral therapist and social worker who works with clients across the country, told HuffPost.
We asked a variety of psychological and emotional health professionals what steps they take when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Because even the mental health experts need a little help sometimes.
1. They accept the fact that they’re anxious.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to quell your anxiety is to acknowledge and embrace that it’s happening in the first place, said Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist and author of “Struggle Well Live Well: 60 Ways to Navigate Life’s Good, Bad, and In-Between.”
“Once I came to terms with the fact that I had an active mind — one that sometimes disrupted my sleep and time with my family — I’ve done a much better job of managing it,” Gilliland said.
2. They give themselves a mini pep talk.
Gilliland said he also uses two phrases when he feels anxiety coming on: “Not now,” which helps him push away stressors and brings him back to the present moment, and “Yes, you can,” which he got from a yoga class.
“When I thought I was going to die or tear something, the instructor said, ‘Yes, you can,’” Gilliland said. “When I start worrying that I can’t manage a case or not sure if I can do something, it’s my favorite statement that keeps me going.”
3. They do some deep breathing.
This is the gold standard quick fix for anxiety for a reason.
“One of my favorite things to do, because you can do it anywhere and at any time, is breathing,” Gilliland said. “I am absolutely fascinated by the biology and history of breathing or mediation. It is a great way to change an anxious moment or decrease the anxiety to where it’s manageable. And when you are trying to solve a really difficult situation for a client, you need to be able to think clearly, and that won’t happen if you panic. It’s awesome.”
4. They adopt a mantra.
In addition to concentrating on your breathing, it might also be helpful to repeat a few calming mantras to yourself, explained Jennifer Musselman, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.
“When I have anxiety, I connect to my breath … I combine it with mantras: ‘You are going to be OK. One step at a time. You are going to be OK no matter what,’” she said. “I can better contain and challenge my thoughts this way while soothing my emotions.”
5. They spend a few minutes with a furry friend.
“Snuggling with my long-time sidekick, Leo, my dog, soothes me. The warmth of his body and presence calms me,” Musselman said.
And, of course, this doesn’t just apply to dogs. David Burns, a psychiatrist and author of “Feeling Good,” said his rescue cat, Misty, always helps when he’s feeling anxious.
“Connecting with cats has been wonderful. [My wife and I have] poured our lives into loving them,” Burns said.
6. They distract themselves with a little self-care.
“Depending on what the anxiety is about, I like to take a walk and listen to Deepak Chopra on Spotify or set the mood at home with relaxing music and a lavender scent while soaking in a hot bubble bath,” Musselman said.
Self-care is different for everyone, so what works for one person may not apply to you. The point is to engage in an activity or build a routine that relaxes you, refreshes you or helps you feel more in control over what’s bothering you.
7. They challenge negative thoughts.
Jodi Aman, a counselor and author of “You 1, Anxiety 0,” said she labels an anxious thought when it pops up and then counters it with some empowering self-talk.
“For example, if anxiety says, ‘Something bad will happen if you do that,’ instead of worrying what can happen and going down that rabbit hole, I say [to myself], ‘That’s anxiety chatter,’” she explained. “It pulls me out of the chaos and back into the safety of the present.”
8. They jot down everything they’re feeling.
Research shows writing can be extremely cathartic, and experts live by this practice as well. Habib Sadeghi, a spiritual psychologist and author of “The Clarity Cleanse,” turns to journaling to alleviate anxiety.
“I write down everything that’s disturbing my peace, paying attention to how those things are making me feel and my fears about potential outcomes that might be negative,” Sadeghi said.
“Then, I go to bed, and I awake with a healthy sense of distance between me and the situation with the increased mental space to think through my feelings without them controlling me,” he said. “I can assess the situation without losing myself in it or becoming it.”
Sadeghi said distancing yourself from what’s bothering you for a small period of time will help you examine the situation with more clarity.
“Without that ability, all we’re doing is feeling with no thinking, unconsciously reacting and usually making the situation worse,” he said. “To be able to think through your feelings is what combines the head and the heart on the way to finding a solution.”
9. They take a second to recognize what they’re doing in the moment.
Sometimes it takes a little recognition of the present moment to refocus your thoughts.
“Instead of using my energy and effort to decrease or get rid of my anxiety, I choose to realign with what I value most in that moment,” Annestedt said. “Perhaps I am in the middle of playing with my kids, but I have an anxious thought about an impending work project that’s interrupting me. In that moment, I can choose to put all of my attention into problem-solving that thought or I can pull my focus back to playing Legos. I always strive to choose the latter.”
“Living With” is a guide to navigating conditions that affect your mind and body. Each month, HuffPost Life will tackle very real issues people live with by offering different stories, advice and ways to connect with others who understand what it’s like. In May, we’re covering anxiety in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Got an experience you’d like to share? Email [email protected]
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