Overcome Anxiety and Overwhelm : Part I
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed is more common than you’d think, especially considering the current situation of our country, and the world. This feeling can become rather debilitating, or at least take away from your enjoyment of day to day life. You may start to limit contact with others, even though we’re in an unprecedented period of limited contact already. It may lead to you shutting down and a sense of what looks and feels like depression.
While it’s good to remember that we’re all experiencing trying times right now, though everyone’s experience is unique, that’s hardly enough to help us through.
One way to reduce anxiety and overwhelm is to increase awareness, then create action.
When you first start to feel anxious or overwhelmed…when you first notice the signs, stop what you’re doing and pay attention to it. Is your breathing shallow and fast, has your heart rate increased, are you foggy and having a hard time focusing, are you tense? Do this very briefly…don’t stay with it.
Then, immediately identify the feeling…anxious, overwhelmed, fearful, and see if you can acknowledge that the feeling is something you’re experiencing, not Who You Are. You’re FEELING anxious, YOU aren’t anxious. Anxiety is not who you ARE. You are a person having an anxious experience. See if you can visualize the anxiety as separate from you, next to you, then shift your thoughts to “Oh, anxiety has shown up,” or, “Ok, I’m feeling anxiety.”
Once you are aware and identify the feeling as separate from you, you can take steps to change it. First, ask yourself what you are telling yourself that led to the feeling. This may be obvious, or it may take some time to recognize a really old pattern. Even if there is something real that you’re reacting to, it’s what you’re telling yourself about it that leads to the anxiety.
This is one of the hardest things to understand and accept. The anxiety is not automatic in a universal sense. It’s automatic in that it’s a typical reaction for you that you aren’t consciously aware of it until you think about it, but it’s not a given. Two people having the same experience can have completely different reactions, so it’s not absolute. What we think about something is ultimately what creates our emotions, and then they become automatic for us.
Once you identify the feeling and the thoughts that led to it, you can then consciously decide to change the thoughts. What is the reality of the situation? What is a different way to see it? What can you say to yourself—that feels true, that’s better than the automatic thoughts? This is not a matter of using positive affirmations or telling yourself, ‘It will all be fine.” These aren’t usually very helpful in the midst of a moment of intense overwhelm. Choose something specific to your situation, something that’s undeniable, that helps you realize the situation is not only different than you may have thought, but temporary.
Practice, Practice, Practice
As with any new behavior, awareness then practice is needed for effective change. Noticing and stopping at the first sign of the anxiety, identifying it and separating it from yourself, identifying self-talk that led to it, then replacing that talk with more helpful thoughts may help you rebalance yourself and overcome anxiety.
Next time I’ll discuss some other techniques that can be helpful with anxiety and overwhelm. For now, if you find yourself so anxious you don’t feel like you can cope, it may be a good idea to talk with someone.
Peace to you.