The Anxiety Toolbox
What’s in our anxiety toolbox? Is it sufficient? Do we have the tools to cope with the problems that we regularly face? Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed, that we don’t know where to start. Things can get on top of us to such a degree that our usual coping mechanisms are insufficient. Anxiety can wash over us, and before we know it, we are unable to get out from under it. Are we even aware it is anxiety that we are feeling? Sometime we are feeling low, and sluggish, but the underlying problem may be anxiety. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, with one feeding the other.
It is important that we know what is going on for us, how to react, and what tools are at our disposal. Some of the tools below are not quick fix, and will take time to implement, but it is about building resilience and fortitude going forward.
1. Paper and Pen
Sometimes we don’t know what we think until we write it down
Every anxiety toolbox needs paper and a pen. Writing can be a very powerful tool. When we are stuck in our own heads, we can go around in circles for hours without any resolution. It’s often only after we write down our thoughts that we realise what we are going through.
So, pull out your pen and paper, and start to write. It slows down our thinking. It can give us perspective. We can read over what we have written, and look at it objectively. What would I say to another person who had written this? What advice would I have? Would I understand what they were going through? Would I be empathic to their situation?
Free-associate…don’t censor yourself, or worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Nobody but you will be reading this. Try and write about what you are feeling. Yours wants and fears. What is going on for you at the moment. It’s ok not to know what to write, just write about anything that comes to mind. If it bores you, write about being bored, and see where you end up. If you think it’s a stupid exercise, write about what it feels like to be wasting your own time…just write, and follow where the pen takes you.
2. Our body as a warning system
Our bodies know exactly what is going on for us, we just need to listen. I’ve written about Anxiety symptoms
and the threat system (fight or flight) before, and if we are dealing with a lot of anxiety in our lives, it is essential to be know how our body reacts under stress. If we are aware, it can act as a great trigger warning that we need to address our anxiety. If we are not aware, our body’s natural reaction to anxiety can be misread, and act as fuel to our anxious thoughts.
Some symptoms (of many) can be a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea or tense muscles. Everybody reacts similarly, but different. Get familiar with your body under stress, and try to get comfortable in the knowledge that these symptoms are there to protect, not harm you.
getting in our own way with criticism and judgement
A simple concept, but difficult enough to implement. Self-compassion needs to be the cornerstone of everything we do when we are trying to deal with anxiety, and it is an essential tool for our anxiety toolbox. Often our own harsh beliefs can play either into the maintaining of anxiety, or preventing us from reaching out and getting help. “I should be better than this…why can’t I stop these thoughts and feelings…I’m so weak…people will think I’m crazy…people will judge me…etc, etc”.
If we could cultivate for ourselves the type of compassion that we would have for loved ones going through similar problems, then that would be a great start. What would we say to others? Would we be empathic? Would we listen and offer support, or would we shrug and tell them to pull themselves together…stop being so weak?
Self-compassion needs to be in our anxiety toolbox if we are to navigate through our thoughts and emotions without getting in our own way, with criticism and judgement.
4. Our Blueprint
If something feels uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. If something is easy, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy
We all have an idea of how things should be going, how things should be working out. We may not have explicitly thought it out, but it is there. If I do this thing, then that thing should happen. If I follow this path, then these results will follow. We all have our own blueprints in our anxiety toolbox, but it is influenced by our parents, society, advertising, peers, etc. Sometimes our blueprint is not even our own. We have looked at what other people are doing and decided that is what we should be doing, without figuring out what our needs and wants are.
Life can become difficult when reality doesn’t match our expectations, and this is where anxiety could take hold. We are met with resistance, and our instinct is to run. What’s important at times like these is to figure out what we are running from…why are we resisting it? What can we learn about ourselves here.
If you are in a job you hate, check your blueprint, and why this doesn’t match with reality. Know why you hate the job so much. Now, is there anything to learn here? Can you accept where you are, for the time being, and lean into it? There is real growth to be made when we are aware of our own resistance and we push through anyway. It is outside our comfort zone where we usually make real progress.
Sometimes we are happy in a role we are very familiar with, and if that changes, anxiety can flourish. However, if something feels uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. The opposite is also equally as true, in that if something is easy, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy, or good for us. If life matches our blueprint, there is no anxiety, but also no growth.
We need to be aware of our blueprint for life, and that if we feel resistance, it may well be that our expectations do not match with what our current situation is. Always have it at hand, but never be afraid to change your blueprint, if it comes up against reality and is found to be inadequate.
5. Independence and self-reliance
Living like a teenager at home does not help us when we go out to work in the world of adults
We need, at the earliest possible moment, to foster independence for ourselves. The housing market is crazy these days, and the rental market is awful, but if there is any way you can live away from your parents, then make it happen. If there are sacrifices that you can live with, in order for you to be able to move out, make them. Then, when you visit your family home, do not revert to your original role.
If you do have to live with your parents, however, it is of vital importance that you start living like an adult in the house, and start to become more self-reliant. Contribute! Are you cooking your own meals? Are you doing your own washing? Are you interacting like another adult in the house, or are you playing the role of the child still? Living like a teenager at home does not help you when you are going out to work in the world of adults. It can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable, without sufficient tools to cope. If you are looking to your parents to guide you through life, then this can leave you lacking in the skills and strength to progress in the workplace.
Change the relationship to grow
Cultivate a different relationship with your parents, wherever possible. It might not be easy, but try move towards an adult-to-adult relationship, rather than a parent-to-child one. You may feel that they are treating you like a child, and maybe they cannot let that image of you go, but are you acting like an adult in the family home? You have no control over their actions, or responses to you. You do, however, have control over how you conduct yourself, and how you choose to be in the world.
This is crucially important, as if we do not see ourselves as adults, or if we rely on something outside of ourselves for strength, anxiety can thrive. How can we face our own problems in work when we do not face them outside? If we have not learned that we can cope with our own problems, then we need to learn that as soon as possible.
With independence and self-reliance, comes self-belief and the knowledge that we can face down whatever life throws at us. It is something we all need to have in our anxiety toolbox in order to tackle problems when they inevitably arise.