If you struggle with anxiety, regardless of whether you’ve been given an official diagnosis, one of the most powerful things you can do is to construct a toolbox of skills and strategies to implement when those thoughts of worry and stress—and their accompanying physiological responses—take hold.
Here are 12 things you may want to include in your toolbox:
- Journaling. You don’t have to subscribe to any rules in connection with your journal. Write to relieve your stress and let go of the anxiety you feel. Write and rip, share or don’t, draw or scribble. Externalize your thoughts and feel the relief of having emptied them onto paper.
- Music. Assemble various playlists so you have the kind of music you seek when you need it, whether it be soothing songs or those that will energize you if you’re feeling “stuck.”
- Creative outlets. Funnel your anxiety into painting, drawing, dancing, writing, sculpting, playing music, singing, decorating, sewing, knitting, photographing, cooking, etc. A creative endeavor can be a healthy outlet for angst and a means of expressing feelings that might cause further suffering if ignored or suppressed.
- Breaks. Stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air, getting a drink of water, or fixing yourself a cup of tea, having a healthy snack, or reading for a few minutes can all serve as brief diversions to recharge your battery and offer you a bit of calm.
- Relaxation skills and breathing exercises. You can download guided exercises or use an app (calm.com and headspace.com are commonly used by people I work with in the therapy room). Just a few minutes of focusing on your breath—consciously breathing in for five seconds and then out for five seconds—can be all you need to bring your anxiety level down a notch or two. Be sure to practice these exercises on a regular basis so they come more naturally to you when you need them (before bed can be an ideal time to do this).
- Imagery and visualization. Imagine an upcoming anxiety-producing event going as smoothly as possible. Be sure to engage as many of your senses as possible. You can also visualize a safe, soothing place such as a waterfall, the beach, or a mountaintop, again plugging into the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches the scene might invoke. These skills, too, will serve you best if they are well practiced.
- Rehearsing. Rehearsing can help you anticipate, and plan for, “what-ifs” so you feel better prepared. You can role play with others to help diffuse your fear and apprehension and strategize with regard to how to handle potential hurdles in a productive way.
Combat your negative inner dialogue and perfectionism by letting go of the need to be perfect, and becoming okay with things being just “okay.”
- A support network. Who are the people you can talk to and go to for support? Examples might be a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, coach, teacher, religious leader, coworker, mentor, or therapist. Awareness of who is in your network of support can enable you to feel less isolated and alone. Compile your network’s names and numbers so you have them handy when you want to reach out. Be sure to let those people know just how important they are to you.
- Positive self-talk. Combat your negative inner dialogue and perfectionism by letting go of the need to be perfect, and becoming okay with things being just “okay.” As you tune in to the negative messages you feed yourself, formulate more appropriate, realistic ones to combat them. Nourish yourself with encouragement and the kinds of messages you’d offer your best friend in the same situation.
- Exercise. Funnel your stress and anxiety into physical activity. Give that excess energy and adrenaline a place to work rather than allowing it to manifest in a racing heart or sweating while sitting still.
- A list of your accomplishments and thoughts of gratitude. Focus on what you’ve done well, no matter how big or small, as well as on what is going right in the world around you. This can serve to create a big shift in your thoughts. Instead of putting your attention on what might go wrong, which steeps your brain and body in fear, enable positive thoughts and moments to produce as their byproduct other positive thoughts and moments. Success breeds success.
- The ability to ask for help. Seeking out appropriate resources when you don’t have all the answers is a wonderful skill worth developing. It helps you feel supported, and you don’t have to remain stuck if you’re unsure which direction to turn.
The most interesting thing about constructing an anxiety toolbox is that, in doing so, many people see their anxiety markedly decrease overall. This is because they now feel equipped, ready to face their anxiety more effectively when stress, upset, or overwhelm attempt to take over.
What will you put in your toolbox?
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