By: Angelie Karabatsos, LPC, NCC, MA, MBA
Many people deal with anxiety on a daily basis. This article talks about how to reduce anxiety-signs and symptoms. It is important to note that anxiety is both a mental and physical state of being.
Definition of Anxiety
- Anxiety is a negative mood state identified by physical tension.
- Fear about a future event or situation.
- Marked with feelings of dread or worry.
- Headache and/or muscle aches.
- Sweating or feeling warm.
- Insomnia characterizes the physical symptoms of anxiety.
The anxious state is future orientated. Meaning the worry did not begin during the event or situation it began hours, days, even weeks before the event. Overwhelming emotions are often intensified by intrusive thoughts that are usually negative and catastrophizing. An example of an intrusive thought is: “I can’t give the presentation my boss wants me to give because I speak too fast and no one will listen.”
Reducing Intrusive Thoughts
- Cognitive reframing or cognitive restructuring techniques
- Mindfulness exercises
- Guided imagery
- Focused attention
Both of these techniques focus on turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts. This is done by reframing the actual thought. We think we can multitask. Our brain is works in a linear fashion. One automatic negative thought, “I speak to fast,” turns into “no one will like what I am saying.” Which then creates “my boss will be mad and fire me.” One negative thought creates the next, and another, and another. Together these thoughts produce anxiety, spinning, or an inability to relax. If we change the second thought to “I have something worthwhile to say.” This will lead to “ I am a good speaker.” Changing thought patterns from negative to positive reduces feelings of anxiety. When counselors think of how to reduce anxiety-signs and symptoms they turn to cognitive reframing.
I teach three types of mindfulness activities to clients experiencing anxiety. Focused breathing , guided imagery , and focused attention. Focused breathing is usually what comes to mind when someone hears the word mindfulness. Its an easy and quick way to direct thoughts away from anxious thoughts and focus only on the breathing thus reducing anxiety. Basically, its taking deep breaths and noticing its effects on the body. Often times saying a calming word while letting breath out draws attention away from racing thoughts to focus on the word that is bringing calmness thus relaxing the body. Heart rates usually begin to slow down. Intrusive thoughts begin to go away.
Guided imagery conjures up an image of a pleasant place through evoking all five senses. Generally, any image that involves water provides calmness. For instance, if the happy place is the beach, we would start by describing and watching the waves going in an out in our mind’s eye. We would look at the sky and the rocks to help solidify the place. Next, we would listen to the sounds of the tide, seagulls and children laughing as they fly kites. Then we would feel the wind and sun on our bare legs and arms. Next, I will guide my clients down the street to the taffy store, where we will smell the carmel corn and popcorn then taste their favorite taffy flavor. The five senses evoked are: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. This brings the experience from the past to the present and generally relaxes the anxious person
Focused attention is one that takes a little more practice and skill. It is diverting intrusive thoughts with action. The anxious person takes a small object out of their pocket or purse, holds it in their hand with their eyes closed. Focusing all their attention on the object they then answer, silently or out loud, the answers to the following questions.
- How does the object feel in my hand: hard or soft?
- How does the object feel in my hand: smooth or rigid?
- How does the object feel in my hand: hot or cold?
The guiding principle behind this technique is that we can not answer these questions and continue with the automatic negative thoughts creating the anxiety. We either spin with the negative thoughts or answer the questions and reduce the anxious feelings. You might be wondering if this technique actually works. Have you ever tried to sing along to a favorite song and write something? Even if it is a simple thing, like a grocery list, it is impossible! We can either sing the song or write but our brain will not let us do both.
Research shows that a little anxiety actually enhances our performance. Feeling a little nervous about a work-related project, presentation, or an upcoming social event is actually a good thing. We explore alternatives, weight consequences, and develop even better solutions. It is when it becomes all-consuming it manifests into an Anxiety Disorder and can spiral into extreme feelings of being stuck or depression.
To learn more about how to reduce anxiety-signs and symptoms click on link for the Anxiety page. If you are experiencing or know someone who is coping with any anxiety please contact me for further information.
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