By Julia Overlin MS LPCC NCC
When we are young we cannot wait until we are adults so that we can have the freedom to spend our time as we wish without our parents dictating our schedules to us. We yearn to come and go as we please, see our friends, and choose to do what we want, nary a care in the world. As we age and the responsibilities increase, the freedoms become less and less a priority. We become dependent on the schedules and the routines as those are what provide a sense of comfort and stability in our lives. It is the structure and ability to depend on the daily job to take care of our basic needs that helps us feel a sense of comfort and Self helping us know we are okay because everything is as it should be. That is, until it isn’t; as we are all experiencing now.
Anxiety takes on many forms. It can be very motivating. It can take on the form of anticipation, of excited nervousness, eagerness about a hoped-for outcome. It may represent an event you are nervous about, a new job, an interview, a first date, a breakup, a difficult conversation or phone call, or again the store has no toilet paper. Whatever the moment, anxiety can be a useful tool. It simply depends on how you view its impact on you and your life in that moment. Your ability to recognize anxiety for what it is while not allowing it to overtake and swallow you whole is what will weed you out from the rest of the pack as a healthy coping individual versus someone who is anxious and afraid to face the world altogether.
An interesting quality about anxiety is that, like a tornado, when we feel anxious, other aspects of life that may not otherwise be irritating or anxiety provoking can suddenly feel also heightened because our nervous systems are racing, everything twirling into the same emotional vicious cyclone. Many individuals when anxious will feel racing heart palpitations, sweating, nervousness, an inability to think clearly, or some not able to think or concentrate at all, their minds go blank out of fear and panic as if their “pause” button has been clicked till they are calm enough to continue forward. What I want you to remember is even in the most anxiety-provoking moments, you have the ability to take the moment back for yourself and not let yourself spiral and feel out of control. Your thoughts and what you do with them, including anxiety, impact your behaviors and everything thereafter for you. It is imperative you do your best to stay objective and not be reactive in the moment.
In these moments the thing to do instead is…
Step back emotionally for a second.
Identify what it is that is making you so anxious.
(Because naming it gives you control over it.)
How we can use anxiety to our advantage is by acknowledging to ourselves “I feel anxious.” Then identifying “I feel anxious because…” The more specific the reason the easier it will be for you to find ways of coping and managing your anxiety in the moment. We adapt and overcome by feeling in control of a moment. Identifying what is making you anxious, takes away the fear of it for many people. Own it. Fix it. And then find ways to help yourself move on…
Many of you have done this before but in moments of panic we never remember our strengths or having overcome such stressors. Right now recall all the times you overcame panic and were able to move past it. Jot down how you did that. Did you breathe in/out? Meditate? Long walk? Sit and reflect? Call a friend and vent? Reflect to yourself “I rock, I got this!” What was it you did, do you recall? It was something, and likely not too complex. Coping skills don’t have to be complex to be effective, they only have to work for you.
Learning Emotion Regulation, learning to self-regulate and not let your emotions run your life are life skills that strengthen as we get older and as we practice them. With every event that upsets us or makes us anxious we have the opportunity to practice emotion regulation.
As children we learn “Stop. Look. Listen.” for safety in our neighborhoods, not to get run over by cars going by and to stay safe. As adults we need to practice the same, though now it is in managing our emotions.
Look at what is impacting you emotionally.
Listen to your heart, what emotion are you feeling?
Choose Coping. Not Chaos.
Julia Overlin MS LPCC NCC