Anxiety is no fun for anyone. It’s like that really awkward guy at a party who no one invited, and no one knows where he came from. He stands awkwardly in the corner of the room, not saying or doing much, but maintaining a heavy and uneasy influence over the ambiance of said gathering. No matter how much you try to ignore him, you can’t deny he is there. What’s worse is you don’t feel comfortable asking this guest to leave, nor would you ever know how.
Yeah, anxiety is kind of like that.
It’s definitely my least favorite physiological state. A mix that goes beyond worry and angst, anxiety often makes you feel crazy. It is an overwhelming amalgamation of mental and emotional stress that quickly spirals reality into something far beyond what is real. If you’ve ever struggled with any sort of anxiety disorder or panic attacks, you know how quickly it can overtake your life. Almost anyone can relate to the occasional anxiety attack: racing heart, uncontrollable thoughts, irrational emotion, fear and panic. While under its spell, it’s common to feel out of control, not like yourself, and overtaken by stress.
According to its medical definition, “anxiety is a state consisting of psychological and physical symptoms brought about by a sense of apprehension at a perceived threat,” says Psychology Today. Anxiety evolved to protect us from possible harm in one of two ways. Either by helping us avoid dangerous experiences (feeling alarmed when walking alone late at night in a secluded area) or by helping us go into fight or flight mode when we are in an extreme circumstance (having a man at a bar get too physically aggressive).
But what’s going on when we feel anxious when there is no actual threat or danger? Because we evolved into more intellectual and emotional beings, physical threats are no longer the main cause of our anxiety. We fear rejection and failure. We worry that we’ll make a fool of ourselves. We get anxious that we’ll never be truly loved and accepted. While our physical bodies are safe, our hearts are the ones under attack.
Anxiety is on the rise, with 28% of adults experiencing an anxiety disorder within their lifetime. With higher stake jobs and bigger expectations for what we want to accomplish, we’re dealt all sorts of triggers but not often given the tools to deal with these anxiety-inducing instances. I don’t want to leave you at the party standing by the mixed drink bowl with Mr. Awkward Anxiety, while everyone else has the time of their life.
When I suffered from anxiety panic disorder as a teen, this is what did the trick for me to overcome extreme worry: becoming the observer. When you feel anxious, it often feels like you’re trapped in the middle of it. But if you’re able to take a few steps back and observe what is happening, you suddenly won’t feel so controlled by that experience. I’m forever grateful to my therapist Harry Nichols for passing this along to me, and I’d like to pass it along to you. If you want to stop being a nervous wreck, try this out the next time your feeling under the weight of anxiety.
5 Steps to Anxiety Relief:
- Step 1: Close your eyes, and take 3 slow breathes in and out through your nose.
- Step 2: Imagine a movie theater, and when you look at the screen, the film playing is you in your current state of anxiety. Then envision yourself sitting in a seat in the theater, watching you on screen. Just sit there and watch yourself for at least one minute.
- Step 3: Then imagine you’re even one step further back, up in the film booth playing the film. And you can see both yourself sitting in the seat watching, and yourself on the screen. While in the booth, watch the film unfolding for another minute.
- Step 4: Acknowledge that you are not the actor in the film, nor the participant in the movie theater, you are the controller of the projector. You are not your thoughts, or your feelings, you are the observer of those thoughts and feelings.
- Step 5: Then take the film reel off the projector and put it away. Take 3 more slow breaths.
When you complete these steps open your eyes, and notice how you feel. Often more peace and control will be present, while the panic and worry faded away.
Anxiety isn’t good or bad, although in the long term it can have a negative affect on your overall health. Think of it more like information, and try to listen to what your nerves are saying. They are bringing attention to something, so stop and observe for a moment. What are they telling you? It’s like walking up to that awkward guy at the party, and asking him who he is and what he’s doing there. The answer may surprise you.