Anxiety: Mental Tricks That Help Me Cope.

Anxiety: Mental Tricks That Help Me Cope

I suffer from multiple forms of anxiety. If there's one thing that unifies the strands it's their ability to stop me doing the things that I want/need to do. Anxiety induced avoidance has had a large impact on my life, but things are slowly getting better.

I often find a lot of what's written to help anxiety sufferers, quite literally, fails to scratch the surface. 'Go have a relaxing bath', 'do some exercise' and the like are common 'cures' for an anxious mind. But what are you supposed to do in those moments when you're actively engaged (or about to be) in the situation that's the root of your current anxiety?

Along the lines of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), I believe the long term solution depends on the way in which your brain thinks and copes with the situations you are facing. Anxious minds often weigh in on negative thoughts to a detrimental extent. Although my experience of CBT wasn't overly positive, I've developed a few (more fun) mental mechanisms that are, in part, derived from the course of therapy I went through. They've helped break through the anxiety I experience - avoidance is no longer the only option.

Here are my tips for the times when your anxiety is about to chain you down.

Shut It Down.

... a phrase coined by my favourite female protagonist (Liz Lemon from 30 Rock!). Acknowledge the negative thoughts racing through your brain. Identify them, consider them, then shut them down! If they're ludicrous, mentally smash them to smithereens - I literally picture a mental sledgehammer. There is power in knowing that you're are in control of the negative thoughts, that they don't have to affect you, that the 'other' part of your brain can decide how much you take them into consideration.

Stop and Go Signs.

There have been times when I've got to the main entrance of an office building for an interview and not been able to get myself through the door. In such circumstances, the only thing going through my head tends to be 'I can't do this'. My brain now follows 'I can't do this' with a mental stop sign (one of the big red American octagonal stop signs). I breathe, then picture a big green go sign.

Taking my mind out of its loop of negative thoughts simplifies the decision ... of course, I can get through the flipping door. My mental green go sign is now, without question, associated with action as opposed to more thought about whether I can do the action, whether the action is a good idea, what the consequences of the action are etc. etc. ... I guess it's along the lines of 'just do it'!

Do I Want To Do This? Yes!

I don't know about you, but I'm so sick and tired of dealing with my brain every time I have to do anything. I'm so sick of dealing with the disappointment of having backed away from something I had planned, letting others down. I'm so sick of feeling anxious about small things weeks in advance, wondering whether I'm going to be able to do them or not.

There is power in realising that the only thing holding you back is the anxiety - a part of you that isn't the whole of you. There is power in having the courage not to let that small part of you win. Next time you're about to back out of something, or are feeling out of control, ask yourself: "do I want to do this?"- "does the nonanxious, really me, part of me want to do this?". Whenever I answer 'yes' I have a spurt of strength and motivation; it serves as a reminder - I will not get to the end of my life having let anxiety rule my actions.

Blinker Yourself.

As an anxiety sufferer, a lot of tasks can seem overwhelming. I often think about things in a negative way for far too long before I have to do them which only feeds the anxiety and triggers my avoidance at an earlier stage. It really helps to (metaphorically) blinker myself in the time leading up to such events. I break tasks down into baby steps and only allow myself to focus on the things that need to be done right now.

If I'm heading to an interview and think I can't do it I'll ask myself:  "Can you put on your interview clothes?" - of course you can, "Can you get into the car?" - of course you can ... "Can you get through the door of the office building?" - of course you can. Essentially I challenge myself to get as far as possible into the process, then by the time I've got to the final destination the next step (that seemed huge at the start) is more manageable.

Worst Case Scenario.

I'm not sure that an anxiety counsellor would actively encourage this, but the fact of the matter is: I can't stop myself from considering the worst case scenario ... then adding an additional, worse, extension to it. That's not greatly productive, but realising that nothing has ever been as bad as the mental image I have in my brain is wholly reassuring. It also helps me take a step back and realise that most of my negative thoughts are utterly ludicrous ... just because they're going through my mind, I don't have to believe them.

The Anxiety Crushing Powers Of Laughter

I'm 100% sure that this isn't an exact science but I don't think it's any coincidence that: I spent the hours before my first driving test (which I failed with 3 majors, cried a lot and had the worst panic attack of my life) studying theoretical roundabouts and mentally going through my maneuvers. I spent the hours before my second driving test a few weeks later (which I passed calmly with 3 minors) laughing at Parks and Recreation and Amy Poehler interviews. From that day forward I vowed to laugh in the face of anxiety.

Laughter is more powerful than anxiety, for me, it's impossible to be laughing and feel anxious at the same time ... if nothing else it distracts your mind from the anxiety for a while. Practical implementation? Fill your phone with things that will make you laugh out loud, or take a really funny friend along for the ride!