Anxiety-Proofing Your Life
By Alicia Fortinberry, MS
"I've read so many self-help books on anxiety and talked about it in therapy, and sometimes I think I'm over it," says Lyssa, a young woman we spoke to recently. "But then real life intervenes, something difficult happens, and WHAM! I'm anxious all over again. What do I do to stay really free from anxiety?"
We hear this question a lot. After all, there seems to be much to be anxious, and even depressed, about. We fear that we will lose our job or be passed over for promotion. We worry about paying the bills, our health and the health of those we love, our childrens' education, keeping our families safe from violence. We worry that our boyfriend/girlfriend hasn't called, or that we haven't called our family members enough.
Some of our anxiety involves real concerns in the present, and much of it originates from frightening situations from childhood that are being triggered. The purpose of anxiety originally was to galvanize us into appropriate action. However, if you had a traumatic childhood--and that can involve criticism, unrealistic expectations, parental arguments, neglect, divorce and of course physical, sexual or emotional abuse--then you may find yourself flooded by anxiety and depression that make it difficult to evaluate the risk and respond effectively.
Here are six tried and true tips for fending off anxiety.
- Don't do anything right away you don't have to. It's hard to assess the situation and respond appropriately if you're overwhelmed by anxious thoughts and feelings.
- Identify the "trigger." What just happened that made you feel this way? It could be an event such as an injury or unforeseen expense. If that's the case, think about how you can marshal your resources to respond productively, including people who might help. More likely, however, it was a conversation or interaction with another person.
- Ask yourself whether the person involved in the upsetting incident reminds you of anyone from childhood. If you are now feeling bad about yourself, who made you feel that way, and how? If you feel as if you are about to be abandoned, who left you alone physically or emotionally as a child?
- Work out what the person with whom you are having difficulty in the present would have to do in order for you not to feel anxious. Would they have to stop criticizing you? Would they have to tell you clearly what they needed from you so you could know what was expected? Would they have to cease an action that makes you feel unsafe (for example, stop threatening to leave) or take an action that would add to your safety (such as paying you a reasonable salary or locking the doors at night)?
- Make your needs clear to this person. Try not to use generalities but to be as specific as possible to ensure your need can be met. Be sure to use action words. Don't say, for example, "Be supportive." Instead, say "I need you to listen to me when I speak of my concerns and not give advice unless I ask for it."
- Take a walk in a natural setting and note as many new sights, sounds and scents as you can. Also be aware of your body-are you moving your pelvis and shoulders as you walk, for instance, or are you moving stiffly? Look all around you--up at treetops or the sky as well as the ground, and to the sides and even behind you as well as straight ahead.
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About the Author
Alicia Fortinberry is an award-winning health writer, and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with her husband and long-term collaborator Dr Bob Murray, she is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).
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