May is Mental Health Month, a good time to pay special attention to our mental health and well-being, especially during stressful economic times. But we all know that anxiety and stress can take hold year-round, regardless of the economy's ups and downs.
As a therapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders, I've spent nearly 30 years teaching people how to rid themselves of irrational fears. Many people have also sought my help for common everyday worries that have grown beyond control. Instead of advising them to get rid of anxiety, I teach them how to accept it.
Anxiety itself isn't bad; some is necessary to our well-being and survival. The key is to accept anxiety not a noxious emotional state, but as a normal, healthy response to many stressors we face all the time, every day. Just as it is unrealistic to imagine a life without stress, it is unrealistic to imagine a life without anxiety.
In my new book, One Less Thing to Worry About: Uncommon Wisdom for Coping with Common Anxieties, I include steps to help you make your worries work to your advantage. Here's how:
Once you have assessed the nature of your anxiety and looked at how you interact with it, you begin to have options: You can change the way you relate to anxiety-provoking situations, you can take steps to diffuse the anxious feelings, and/or you can learn to tolerate and ultimately accept that worry, anxiety, and stress are an inevitable part of life. To which end I offer an invaluable tool for dealing with the inevitable: the Eight Points: Techniques to Control Anxiety, Worry, and Stress.
I first heard about these gems from the late great Manuel Zane, MD, one of the pioneers in treating phobias and panic attacks. He had developed a set of techniques that he called the Six Points to help his patients stay grounded when in the grip of intense anxiety. The Points were simple, concrete directives to help patients focus on what was happening in the moment rather than what their imaginations feared might happen. This enabled them to modify the essence of the experience from fleeing fear to confronting it.
Over time, I took the liberty of adding two points and modifying the others for use with my own patients as well as for people who asked me for help getting their everyday anxiety under control. They remain simple, solid steps that anyone can take anytime, anywhere, to remain grounded when anxiety threatens to throw them off balance.
The Eight Points: Techniques to Control Anxiety, Worry, and Stress
1. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety, and stress are part of life.
2. When you feel yourself getting anxious or starting to worry, stop, breathe, and think.
3. Focus on what you can do, rather than on what you cannot do.
4. Label your anxiety level from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Note the thoughts and behaviors you have at this level and what happens to the level when you change your thoughts and behaviors.
5. Ask yourself: "What am I really anxious about?"
6. Ask yourself: "What can I do to lower my anxiety level?"- and do it.
7. Stay rooted in the here and now. Focus on the information you have rather than on the "what if?"s that often accompany anxiety.
8. Expect, allow, and accept that worry, anxiety, and stress will return, because they are part of life.
To help you get a sense of how the Eight Points work, I go through them and offer examples of how they might be used in my new book. But if you think you have more than normal everyday worry, anxiety, and stress, read about anxiety disorders. You can also take self-tests and find a therapist.
PLEASE NOTE: The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) does not endorse or promote any specific medications or treatments.
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