Have you found yourself caught in a spin cycle of anxiety? Worried about family, work, health and current events? Does one negative thought lead to another and then another, compounding your overall stress? Or do you get fixated on one particular problem or irritant and find yourself unable to let it go? Age old wisdom told us to distract ourselves from our anxious thoughts, to sweep those worries or fears under a rug or just “let it go.” We now know that avoidance and distraction is not the best response to managing anxiety. So, what works?
NAME IT. Instead of avoiding the feeling of anxiety or stress, name it. Everyone feels anxious or stressed at some point. Say to yourself “I am feeling anxious about…” and describe what is making you feel anxious. If you do not know what triggered your anxiety, say “I started feeling anxious when…” Follow that naming statement with a statement of self-acceptance. Being able to acknowledge that we feel anxious without shame, harsh or critical thoughts toward ourselves, or panic to make it go away is the first step to moving beyond the spin cycle.
GET IT OUT. One strategy that works for some people when they are stuck in the spin cycle of anxious thoughts it to get it out. Some people like to talk it out, while others like to write it out. Writing your anxious thoughts on paper externalizes those thoughts…it gets them out of our heads and onto paper. Often when we see those anxious thoughts in black and white on the paper in front of us, we can more easily identify the twisted thinking. Writing has the added benefit of slowing us down. We cannot write as quickly as we think so writing is a natural way to slow down the thoughts.
COPE WITH IT. If you are still feeling anxious after naming and talking or writing about the spin cycle of thoughts, shift to active coping. This means using your body to regulate your emotions. Take deep breaths through your nose. The olfactory gland in the nose is connected to the part of the brain that regulates emotion. So, try taking ten deep breaths. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm, in through your nose for a count of three, hold for a count of three, and exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Try a muscle relaxation exercise, where you work your way through each muscle group tensing and relaxing.
GROUND IT. Grounding techniques help us focus on the here and now instead of the past or future, often the content of our anxious thoughts. One grounding technique is called 5-4-3-2-1. When you find yourself unable to express or cope with anxious thoughts, get grounded in the present by naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. By grounding ourselves in the present, we can interrupt the spin cycle of anxious thoughts.
We all have moments of anxiety and stress. When those moments stretch on and we find ourselves stuck in the spin cycle of anxious thinking, remember to name the anxiety without judgment. Get it out by talking or writing about what is contributing to the anxiety. Cope with breathing or relaxation techniques. And if needed, get grounded in the here and now.
Dr. Becky Antle
Chief Medical Officer-BHI