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Anxiety

4 Ways to Practice Self-Care When You Feel Anxious

4. Take a break from trying to escape.

Alexei Maridashvili/Unsplash
Source: Alexei Maridashvili/Unsplash

We all go through times of feeling anxious. Some of us, myself included, are more prone to anxiety than other people. In fact, anxiety is my "go-to" emotion in reaction to stress, as opposed to anger or sadness. (For more, see this post about identifying your dominant emotional style).

If you're prone to anxiety, it can be helpful to have some specific self-care strategies. Here are four you can try.

Not all of these ideas will appeal to everybody; pick whichever is the best fit for you.

1. "There's no emergency right now."

In an evolutionary sense, anxiety is designed to grip us, and not let us take our eye or our mind off the source of the threat. In modern times, when we're anxious, we tirelessly overthink, trying to resolve the sense of threat we're feeling.

This is exhausting. It often disrupts sleep, relationships, and concentration. And it usually clouds our thinking rather than makes us feel clearer.

Modern anxiety is usually about threats that we fear will spiral into catastrophes. For example, an imperfection within your performance is revealed, and you worry it will be the start of many mistakes and losing your status, career, and whatever else you have worked hard for.

One simple but effective strategy, say to yourself, "There's no emergency right now. I can allow myself to take my eye off this threat for the next minute." Give yourself permission to take a single minute off from stressing about the problem. Then, extend this, to five minutes or 10 minutes. Try this until it's working well for you, then try 30 minutes or an hour.

Even if you are expecting bad news at any moment, in a literal sense, there usually isn't an emergency you're facing right that minute.

2. Perspective-taking.

What would someone who is just as smart or conscientious as you, but who thinks differently than you, think about the topic of your anxiety? What would they think are your options for resolving it or moving forward with your anxiety? If you can, test this out by asking someone who fits this description.

Anxiety is often accompanied by a sense of shame or not trusting others. By exposing your fears to others, you can disrupt that part of the anxiety spiral.

3. Engage with one of your core values, unrelated to the topic of your anxiety.

This tip is another way to reinforce the notion that, at this moment, there's no emergency. Allow yourself to engage with the world in another way that's important to you. If you value order, what would make you feel more order? If you value caring, how could you express that? If you value diligence, how could you enact that?

This strategy can feel grounding and stabilizing because it reinforces that you're a competent and multifaceted adult, who has many values, beyond avoiding anxiety.

The skill required to use this strategy is that you can identify a simple, single action that expresses your chosen value. For example, how easy is it for you to think of something you can do in under 15 minutes that would enhance your sense of order (if that's your value)?

When you're highly anxious, a 15-minute task might be too big of a mountain to climb, so think of 5-minute versions, too. For example, sorting some clothing ready to wash.

By keeping this very short (limiting it to 15 minutes max), almost anything you choose can still feel like self-care. You can enact your deeply held value, without needing to over-do it to prove your worth.

4. Take a break from trying to avoid or escape feeling anxious.

We all do things to escape anxious feelings. For most of us, these will include some that are generally seen as positive (exercising or throwing yourself into work) and some that are generally seen as negative (scarfing a pint of ice cream). No matter what the strategy is, trying to avoid anxiety is hard work.

Take a break from attempting to escape anxious feelings. Instead of trying to quash the anxious feelings, try letting them exist for half an hour and going about your business. During that time, operate on the assumption that your anxious feelings aren't going to overwhelm or harm you.

Allow your anxious feelings to exist, and to come and go in whatever waves they do.

When you try this, you may dip into ruminating or worrying. This is an anxiety avoidance strategy because you're attempting to find a solution that will make your anxiety go away. If this happens, you can gently say to yourself "thinking" to acknowledge but not get drawn into trying to think your way out of your anxiety (See 5 Things Almost Everyone Gets Wrong About Managing Anxiety).

Note that my posts about anxiety are about the emotion of anxiety, not anxiety disorders. If you have an anxiety disorder, I recommend you take advice from your own health care provider.

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