Elizabeth Guinea, LMHC
Learn how to begin to free yourself from anxious emotions with these 4 easy steps
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
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First of all, let's define what anxiety is. Anxiety, according to The Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment Planner, 3rd edition is an " excessive and persistent daily worry about several life circumstances that has not factual or logical basis ". Physically, it manifests as " motor tension, such as restlessness, tiredness, shakiness, or muscle tension" and "autonomic hyperactivity such as palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, trouble swallowing, nausea or diarrhea". There is also a " feeling of constantly on edge, experiencing concentration difficulties, having trouble falling or staying asleep, and exhibiting a general state of irritability."
I like Peter R. Breggin's anxiety list from his book "guilt, shame and anxiety." He offers quite a comprehensive list of behaviors that could indicate you are having self-defeating anxiety reactions:
Feeling nervous or anxious
Avoiding the unfamiliar
Avoiding taking risks
Worrying about life getting out of control
Worrying about the unexpected
Having trouble keeping up
Wishing you had better luck
Worrying about being left alone or abandoned
Fearing that everything will go wrong at once
Feeling vaguely apprehensive
Finding it hard to focus your thoughts or to stay calm under stress
Wishing people knew how hard you are trying
Feeling scared for not apparent reason
Feeling physical arousal for no apparent reason: your heart beatings fast, or your hands shaking, or your body sweating, or your breathing becoming irregular, or your mouth drying out
Wanting more security
Having rituals or obsessions
Being surprised by how easily other people cope
Getting the wrong kind of help
Feeling tempted to find an easy way out or quick fix for your problems
This article addresses a proactive approach to managing anxious symptoms, it is not about techniques to implement as anxiety relief.
# 1 CREATE A LIST of KEY LIFE STRESSORS
Create a list of all your stressors, past and present that cause worry in your life. Take your time with this step, even if it takes days. You’ll want to have a complete list of your stressors, in order to prioritize them. Look at your list, and number the stressors by order of importance. The list should be organized from the most stressful to the least stressful. Look at your list objectively and now choose top three priorities that you are going to focus your energy and attention to.
As a therapist this is one of the first steps I follow with my clients in our first sessions. I listen to all of their issues, take notes of all of them and then hand the list back to my client. I ask them to organize their issues with numbers, and once they have done so, I ask they choose top three. Together, we discuss why my clients chose these three issues, what they are looking for to accomplish and then I integrate them into a personalized treatment plan.
You can not put your energy into many different goals, or you’ll be successful at none. Focus your energy into what gives you the most stress, which leads us into strategy number two.
# 2 CLEARLY DEFINE YOUR NEXT STEPS
Now that you have organized your priorities, let’s help you and your mind define a clear plan of action. This can not be accomplished with general statements or goals, such as “I want to be more organized.” Nothing wrong with the long-term goal, but in order to give you what you want, your mind needs to have clarity on what to focus your energy on. For example, let's say your home and your work space are disorganized, which is why you chose to focus on your work space first. Your goals should be clearly defined, such as “I want to organize my calendar of activities based on David Allen’s 31 day folder method by X date.” Leave no room for your mind -and you- to feel there isn’t a next step. Show your list to a friend, if they are confused so will your mind.
# 3 PLAN FOR SUCCESS
Now that you have created a clear plan of action with clearly defined, actionable goals, it’s time to look at the list again. Plan for success. By that, I mean look at your list and be realistic about what you have set yourself to accomplish. If your goals are too big, you might fail. Set yourself up for success, only take on what you know you can do, in the amount of time you set for yourself. Go through your list, again. Fine-tune it and show it to another friend. Share how you are going to accomplish your goals, with clearly defined steps. This will make you accountable to someone else, helping you to push yourself to complete your tasks, in order to reduce your anxious feelings.
# 4 THERE IS ALWAYS A PAYOFF
Once my clients are ready to have an insight into their symptoms, I ask them the following question: “What is the payoff for your symptom?” If there wasn’t a payoff, the symptom would not continue to exist. Think, what is there to gain by the existence of this symptom. What’s the benefit? Most people that suffer painful symptoms fight this concept. For example, a young client of mine had diarrhea at the most inconvenient times. After a date, one that she had been excited about, we discussed the details. It turns out this young lady had bought a dress for her new date, took two hours to get ready and was perfectly fine until after she ordered her meal. She went to the restroom, and had to stay there for about 40 minutes. She was embarrassed, not wanting to tell her date the reason she had stayed in the restroom for so long, cut the date short and asked to be taken home. In her session, we processed gains. We focused on what the diarrhea had prevented her from doing. She did not connect with this young man she was really attracted to. Her mother had recently passed away, and we concluded that she simply was not ready to want to open herself up to the possibility of loving someone and they leaving her, just like she felt her mother had. You see? No matter how many doctors, or medication, or techniques she would have applied, none of them would have solved the issue that her desire to avoid pain was stronger than her desire to connect with others. By identifying the pay off, avoiding pain, my client was able to take charge of this part of her life and only date when she felt ready. BTW, it took her almost two years to feel ready, but once she knew what the painful symptom of anxiety and diarrhea did for her, she consciously made choices that were in accordance with her values. The diarrhea never came back,
Good luck pursuing your goals!