What Works and What Doesn’t
Episode #4 of the course How to overcome your anxiety by Eileen Purdy MSW, M.Ed.
Here’s the part you probably know. Currently, when your anxiety acts up and disrupts your life, your alarm system is going off when you don’t need it. So let me tell you the part that many people don’t know. And it happens to be the crux of how to start fixing it.
Since we know our fear or anxiety isn’t rational, analyzing it or thinking through it won’t help, nor will positive affirmations, reverse psychology, or calling ourselves mean names. That said, we might conclude that we need to get out of our heads entirely and just let our minds wander.
But before we go in that direction, research on the subject of mind wandering completed by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University (as described in the journal Science) found that people spent 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they were doing. And this mind wandering typically made them unhappy.
Mind wandering for many also seems to lead to feeling anxious or worried. It seems the tendency for us to slip into habits of ruminating about the past or projecting worst-case-what-ifs into the future has little resistance when we are letting them wander willy nilly.
So then, how do we calm the mind and nervous system?
Glad you asked. We need to bypass our normally helpful intellectual brains and communicate in a language that calms our mind and nervous system. The way we do this pulls together the steps on how to be a buffalo and adds an effective antidote to mind wandering.
1. Label our anxious and worrisome thoughts as false alarms.
2. Grab control and slow our breathing.
3. (Here’s the new part!) Focus our minds back on what we are doing concretely, in that moment. And we can literally be doing anything. That part doesn’t matter.
A great strategy to help us focus our minds on what we’re doing in the here and now is turning to the 5 Senses Strategy.
To use this strategy, pick one of your five senses and identify something that fits in that category. For example, say you are at work and you feel your anxiety starting to rise. It’s right before a big meeting in which you are on the agenda to present. So, you first label those anxious thoughts and feelings as false alarms. Next, you grab control of your breathing and slow it down.
Then, you focus on the smell of the lavender essential oil you have at your desk. You breathe in the fragrance and really allow yourself to take it in. As you do so, you ground yourself in the present and effectively make your anxiety do an about face. You can then go into your important meeting with excited energy versus anxious energy.
If you feel your anxiety creep back up in the meeting while you’re away from your essential-oil-smelling strategy, you pick another one of your senses and focus on that. For example, really feel the coolness of the conference room table on your hands or feel your breath through your nose.
Use whatever sense makes sense and is available. And because your senses are within you, you take this strategy with you wherever you go!
“My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind” by Scott Stossel
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