Anxiety is a common malady that has probably always plagued mankind. This past week, I encountered someone who was incredibly stressed. Since they wanted me to e-mail the things we discussed, I thought this might be a helpful blog post. Also, it’s a good summary of three posts I’ve already written- two very recently Take a Break: Create a Three Blessings Journal/Space, Invest in the Process of Healing and one from 2012 Contentment is Happiness.
Anxiety = What If. What if I start to feel worse? What if I’m really sick? What if I can’t afford the medication I need? When we become most anxious it’s because we’re worried about the future. Sometimes there is a legitimate need to be anxious, but more often than not, it’s our lovely ancient brain wiring, which needed to keep us alert to the very real tiger that lurked in the bushes ready to bounce. In short, we’re wired for a certain level of paranoia or as the neuropsychologist Rick Hanson calls it, “the brain’s negativity bias. The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” Consequently, we routinely over estimate the danger and underestimate our ability to handle it.
The health impact of anxiety and stress has been well documented. Left un checked, anxiety can directly decrease immune function, ultimately leading to “flares,” disease progression and worse.
1. Focus on the now by practicing Stop
• Tell yourself “stop.”
• Take a Breathe Taking deep breaths is a powerful anxiety reducing technique as it activates the body’s relaxation response. Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, hold your breath to a count of 4 and slowly exhale to a count of 4. Repeat several times or sufficiently to slow down.
• Observe what’s going on around you
2: Engage in the present; invest in the process and not the outcome. Being goal oriented is all well and good but invest in the process so everyday is a good day. Read Invest in the Process of Healing.
3: Focus on meaningful activities
The worst thing you can do is sit passively by and obsess. Go to the movies, visit friends, do your laundry. Ask yourself what you would be doing if you weren’t anxious and go do it. Focusing on being anxious adds to the problem.
4. Count your blessings: Martin Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, suggests practicing the “Three Blessings” exercise to increase happiness. "Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. Next to each positive event, answer the question "Why did this happen?" Fore more information, read this past Wednesday’s Take a Break.
5. Increase Contentment: I use contentment over happiness, as the latter implies a level of euphoria that is difficult to maintain. Read Contentment is Happiness and increase it by doing the following (these are from Ten Keys to Happier Living from Action for Happiness):
• Giving: Do things for others
• Relating: Connect with People-Call a friend, have lunch
• Exercising: Take care of your body-Reduce TV viewing and time spent on computers and other technology. Take a walk, dance
• Appreciating: Notice the world around you
• Trying out: Keep learning new things
• Direction: Have goals to look forward to
• Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
• Emotion: Take a positive approach
• Acceptance: Be comfortable with who you are
• Meaning: Be part of something bigger