Turn Attention

1 Thing You Can Do Right Now if You’re Feeling Anxiety

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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:

  1. When your mind starts going to that anxious place
  2. When your body starts amping up
  3. 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?

5 Anxiety Go-To’s that Will Help

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It is waaaay too easy to be anxious these days.

As we become tethered to our technology, we are bombarded and overwhelmed with more input than our brains and bodies can handle. As we get older our responsibilities seem unflinchingly complicated and arduous. Dreaming of being on a deserted island takes on a surprising appeal.

Well, the deserted island may evoke even more anxiety, so let’s slowly back away from that last one.

We all lead busy lives so I’ll keep this simple and brief. If you are struggling with anxiety, here are 5 things to keep in mind and try to help you start finding some relief and regaining your confidence.

  1. Know that your anxiety comes from strong associations your brain has formed from past experiences. When they start to appear, name them to tame them. Say to yourself, “I’m feeling anxious because of the break in”, “I’m feeling anxious even though I don’t know why”, “I’m feeling anxious because of things happening in politics”. Don’t enter into a long conversation with yourself. Name it and move on.
  2. Shift your attention to something else when you feel the first inkling of anxiety. Anything. But not in a panicky, ticking time bomb kind of way. Practice doing this as calmly as you can manage. My “go to” is to turn to my breath because it is always with me. I take deep breaths and just try to pay attention to how it feels. I try to breathe twice as long “out” as I did “in”. After a few deep breaths, I turn my visual attention onto something in the here and now. My goal is to keep myself in the present and disrupt rising anxious thoughts as soon as I am aware of them.
  3. Know it will pass. Seriously, this is legit. Even if you don’t do anything, this overwhelming feeling of anxiety WILL pass. Experiment with it. Next time, try to just observe what it is doing. Your thoughts, feelings in your body, the time it takes, the level of discomfort. Don’t do anything and just observe it pass through. Sorta like that unexpected and inconvenient couch-surfing friend of yours from college. Phew, that visit was brutal…but they’re gone!
  4. Know that any new association, thought, action or choice you can make when you are feeling anxious will start a new neural pathway. These new neural pathways strengthen with each repetition. The key is in the reps. The ultimate goal is retraining your brain away from your past anxious associations. Repetition of new associations will do it.
  5. Self compassion. Your first inclination may be to hate yourself for “doing this” to you again. Actually your second and third inclinations may be the same. As soon as you possibly can muster it, you’ll need to forgive yourself and be nice to yourself. I would bet the farm that you’d never say to a friend the things you are saying to yourself. Turn that understanding inward A.S.A.P.

There you have it in a nutshell. Minus the effort and practice.

Drop me a line (eileen@eileenpurdy.com) I’d love to know what things are your go-to when anxiety comes knocking.