If you think you might be experiencing anxiety, the first thing I want you to do is tell yourself that it’s ok. Just because it’s ok doesn’t mean it’s good; we’re just saying that it is what it is. Next I want you to tell yourself that you are feeling anxiety for a reason and even if you don’t currently know what that reason it, you will figure it out!
Next I want you to check in with your body. You can do a full body scan if that’s helpful. You’re doing this to get to know how your body responds to stress and anxiety. In the future you will be using this information to try to detect anxiety before it becomes problematic. Find a quiet place, sitting down or maybe resting in bed, and starting with your toes, focus on each and every body part. How does your toe feel? Do you notice anything about your toe? What about your foot, is it tensed or relaxed or aching? Work your way all the way up: quads, organs of elimination and reproduction, guts, lungs, heart, shoulders, neck, scalp, face fingers…. Notice your heartbeat, your breathing rate, and cramping or pain.
Personally I have noticed that I carry anxiety in my shoulders and lungs. So when I start rubbing my shoulders I’ve learned that’s a warning sign that I might be feeling more stress than I think. And if I feel like I cant catch my breath, I’ve probably waited a bit too long to deal with that stress.
I keep talking a bout stress vs anxiety. I’m going to also add in fear. Fear is the emotion, if we don’t deal with it and the fear lingers it can turn into stress. Anxiety is the disorder, the illness, the disease that comes from carrying stress.
So once you have identified the body connection and you know where and what stress and anxiety feel like physically, I want you to go ahead and ask yourself:
What Am I Afraid Of?
And this is where it can get a little dark. Initially you might say nothing. And then you might say something like not paying bills, getting a bad grade or performance review or messing up in the raising of your children. But none of these things are life and death so why does the fear of them make you feel like and sometimes wish you were dead? When you take the thoughts a step farther they often factor down to: I’m a failure, I’m not good enough, I’m unlovable, my life is meaningless and then POOF your anxiety just turned into depression.
So I’m guessing you are maintaining pretty rigid control of your bills and your grades and you job performance and your relationships so that you don’t have to wonder about those dark things but you wonder sometimes anyway.
To understand the problem with control, I like to refer to the one question I got wrong on the AP physics exam in 12th grade. It was about frequency. If you have a string suspended between two points vibrating at a certain frequency, how do you reduce the frequency? Do you pull the string tighter? NO!!! you let go. The tighter you pull it, the higher the frequency and before you know you’ve got a violin string. Eeek!!! So try to let go a little bit of the need to control.
Some battles are worth fighting and some can be left to work themselves out. If you need help figuring out what to let go of and how to make choices about where to spend your limited energy (because you are not Superman) ask a friend or find a therapist. And when your body starts telling you that something is wrong, listen to it so that you can identify what needs to change.