Understanding and managing an anxiety attack can be confusing, frustrating, and cause some, well, anxiety. Our friends at YourTango break down what happens and offer some helpful tips to get you through.
The most effective tool is the LAST thing you'd expect.
Most of us probably know the experience of escalating anxiety.
Your palms get sweaty, your heart races, your voice starts to quiver.
It becomes impossible to fake being calm once you've given into your fear of your anxiety.
And even harder to use its message to your advantage.
Somehow we've gotten the idea that if we could just suppress our feelings, they would go away.
But it turns out that the opposite is true.
Research actually shows that the more we resist thoughts, the more intrusive they ultimately become.
The more we fight our experience, the more anxious we become.
College students, for example, when asked by researchers to suppress anxious thoughts about an imminent painful medical procedure, demonstrated more anxiety as a result of trying to suppress their anxiety.
Anxiety is a resource, after all, that helps us stay abreast of the things we care about most, and when it is ignored or suppressed, it escalates.
That's its job. To get our attention so we will address the problem.
Anxiety isn't the problem, it's the messenger.
And fighting the messenger doesn't help it go away — only listening to its message does.
Here are 7 things to remember to help you keep your cool, so you can stop fighting with your anxiety.
1. Remember that anxiety means you care.
We only worry about the things that we care about, and people who are anxious tend to care about a lot.
Recognizing anxiety as a sign you care can help you accept it as a positive presence in your life, and diminish your impulse to fight it.
Enacting compassion toward yourself can help you extend compassion to your anxiety response when it strikes.
2. Keep in mind that anxiety can be a sophisticated tool.
When we dismiss anxiety as a symptom, we miss recognizing its purpose.
A sensitive neurological response, our anxiety circuit is designed to very quickly alert us to a threat and to mobilize protective resources.
Just because you don't immediately understand its message doesn't mean it's off base.
Feeling anxiety, for example, when you are in an ambiguous social situation can sometimes alert you to social patterns you have experienced before that are dangerous, or have been hurtful, even if you can't quite put your finger on it.
In this way, anxiety can pick up on dynamics well before you are conscious of them that can help you navigate a situation more safely.
Anxiety always signals something important — the trick is to turn toward it, rather than against it.
3. Examine your anxiety once it has settled down a bit.
Use time when you are not acutely anxious to think more critically about anxiety's role in your life.
Consider the situations that typically get you most activated to look for common threads. In a general way, ponder what your anxiety has been trying to tell you.
Are you lonely and often afraid of how people might judge or reject you? Do you find yourself feeling over your head at work and afraid of disappointing your boss or clients?
Getting a handle on the themes that trigger your anxiety can give you a leg up in understanding what's going on when anxiety strikes and the "iron gets hot."
Understanding what is happening helps you be less afraid.
4. Don't confuse the messenger with the message.
As state that naturally motivates us to pay attention and do something to make it stop, anxiety can be miserable and uncomfortable.
So miserable that it can be easy to confuse its message (the problem) with the messenger (anxiety).
Remember, it's not the anxiety that's the problem, it's what you're anxious about that's the problem.
Being curious about the message can help you tolerate the messenger.
5. Notice, rather than react to, anxiety.
Recognize your feelings of anxiety, notice what's happening, and use a spirit of curiosity to help you understand what is happening.
Thinking about your anxiety, rather than reacting to it, activates the part of your brain that controls your thoughts and behavior, thereby affording you a sense of greater control.
Knowledge is power, and understanding what is happening can help you feel more control.
6. Look to channel anxiety into success.
When anxiety kicks up, affirmatively accept its presence, even as it is difficult and inconvenient.
Remind yourself that it will be uncomfortable and challenging, but you can handle it, and it can be used for good.
Anxiety is only a feeling, and it cannot hurt you. It is actually there to help if you don't stand in its way.
7. Envision anxiety as a friend . . . a difficult, prickly, but dedicated and persistent friend.
When anxiety strikes, try saying to yourself or even out loud, "Oh, my prickly uncomfortable friend, how are you trying to protect me? What important situation are you trying to alert me to?"
Personalizing your anxiety as a difficult friend can help inspire a spirit of compassion for your anxiety and its positive role in your life.
All of these strategies share one thread in common: thinking about your anxiety, rather than resisting it.
Adopting an attitude of curiosity is one of the most effective ways to trigger your thinking, and thereby increase your tolerance and understanding.
The opposite of suppression is not an indulgence but a willingness — and an ability — to tolerate one's experience.
Observing your anxiety with curiosity and compassion not only allows you to tolerate it but also to understand what it's trying to tell you and determine what you need to do.
Allow your anxiety to serve you — instead of letting it ruin you.
— Alicia H. Clark
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