I’m often asked for advice in dealing with specific anxiety-causing situations. Most of the time the person is experiencing intense, repetitive anxiety in a particular situation and they want me to explain why this is happening. They see other people successfully dealing with the same situation. They logically assume that there is something other people know that they don’t and they hope that I can let them in on the secret.
As you might have guessed, there is no secret. Anxiety is a protective function of the body and every body is different. When we are faced with a stressful or threatening situation our body prepares us for action. Our bodies are designed to produce the energy we need to deal with any threat we may face. This process is automatic, we don’t think about it, and usually it works great. The problem is sometimes our body creates energy when there isn’t a real threat. While we may realize we aren’t in any actual or immediate danger and we don’t want the extra energy, it can be difficult to know how to get rid of it.
When this unwanted energy comes I recommend four simple steps, represented by the acronym D.R.I.P. and hopefully with practice the anxiety does just that, drip's away.
In that moment of severe anxiety it’s nearly impossible to talk yourself out of it. So don’t bother trying. Distract yourself with something you know will help. Maybe it’s a run, warm bath, or a chat with a friend. Doing something physical even if it is just standing up and walking around the room, or opening a window for air, can provide a helpful distraction.
When the moment has passed recognize it as an accomplishment. Don’t allow feelings of guilt or anger to shield you from the fact that you have overcome a difficult feeling. Take time to pay attention to how you feel when you are calm. It requires you to actively notice how you are feeling. We often don’t pay attention to those feelings as much as we do when we feel anxious but it can help to notice when we are feeling calm.
It is important to note this step begins only after the anxiety has passed. At this time we want to look back over the hours and days that led up to our moment of personal crisis. Anxiety often comes to the surface in moments of peace and so it’s not always obvious what brought in on. Looking back and trying to identify our own personal triggers can be a useful approach. Understanding the cause of anxiety isn’t necessary but in most cases it can be useful in our final step.
Once some time has passed and you feel comfortable reflecting, do it. Think about what happened for you, how you felt and how you would like to plan to act differently. If you’ve tried this approach on your own already finding someone you trust who can give you a fresh perspective may help.
There is no secret to overcoming anxiety. It takes time, patience and hard work. Talking to your doctor or a skilled counsellor is a great first step. You do not have to go through this alone.