When I tell people that I‘m an anxiety therapist they say, ”Wow, could I use someone like you!” People say that All.The.Time. Fortunately, I have the awareness that this comment is not an open invitation for unsolicited advice on overcoming anxiety. So I smile and say, “Me too!”
But after a few of these comments it got me thinking what could I say to someone if they wanted my quick 2 cents that would be helpful, universally effective, and that could be called on when needed?
At a bare minimum, you need a clear strategy for 3 aspects of your anxiety:
- When your mind starts going to that anxious place
- When your body starts amping up
- When you start getting down on yourself because you have anxiety
If I had to give one piece of truly helpful advice, here is what I came up with. It's an If/Then plan to use each and every time you start getting those anxious thoughts, feelings and body sensations.
Use this as your If/Then plan for All 3:
- Label it. Label the fact that you are feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts. Label the fact that your body is responding in an anxious way. Label that you're having self-critical thoughts. Call it out in a direct, objective way. “I’m having anxious thoughts" or " My body is getting that anxious feeling" or "I'm having self critical thoughts." Don’t go into why or why you’d like them to stop. Simply label the thoughts, feelings and body sensations you’re having as anxious thoughts, feelings, body sensations. Less really is more here.
- Turning your attention. When this happens, turn your attention onto something else. After you label your thoughts, feelings or body sensations, letting your brain know that you’ve received that message, turn your attention on to something else. Preferably back to what you were doing or need to be doing but literally putting your attention and focus on anything other than your ruminating anxious thoughts will do the trick. In the beginning, it will feel like you are plying your mind away from the stickiest glue you can imagine. It’s that tough. But over time it gets infinitely easier!
From your experience, what do you think? What would be the #1 thing you’d suggest to a person to try?