a little bit anxious

I know what to do when I am super anxious. I have plans of action and a slew of effective coping skills for extreme situations. When I am too anxious to leave my house, I take a shower. Too anxious to dive into work, I start with some kind of small success (like writing a blog post). When I am too anxious to stop crying, I watch that geometric breathing video.  

 

So, when the anxiety is extreme, I know what to do. I'm pretty good in a crisis. The issues come when I have just a tiny bit of anxiety in the back of my mind. The kind of anxiety I can ignore and still get things done. 

what to do about tiny anxiety 

I have assumed for years that having a tiny bit of anxiety is really good fuel. If I'm always on edge, I'm more likely to be perfect. If I always think I am about to fail, I will be more careful to not fail. If I assume my husband is going to die any minute, I'll cherish him more and I'll be safer when I am the one driving the car. This thinking makes total sense to me, but it has proven to be ineffective.

When an anxious thought pops into my head, I don't always have time to directly address it. I'm in the middle of a sentence and I don't have time to worry about whether I'm going to die in a car crash today. So, I've been trying to do two things. 

1. mindfulness every day 

I know that I preach mindfulness a lot. For the last couple of months, I've been making a much more conscious effort to practice mindfulness every day. Not just on super depressed/anxious/ptsd days. Doing this has decreased the amount of random intrusive negative thoughts throughout my day, not just when I am doing the mindfulness activity. 

my favorite mindfulness activities

  • Use a button jar! Get a giant jar. Fill it with random buttons (you can get them for super cheap at craft stores). Set a timer for five minutes, dump out the entire jar, and organize the buttons in any categories you want (color, size, etc). 

  • Watch your hourglass. Start with a one-minute hourglass! I use a five-minute one. I watch it for one cycle and if I need another five minutes I turn it over.  

Practicing mindfulness on a for real regular basis has been nice. Sometimes it's inconvenient or I don't feel like doing it. But it's only five minutes. It always goes by quickly and it was never a total waste of time, even if I didn't spend any of those five minutes actually being mindful. Knowing that I tried helps me know I am getting better. It's just like going to the gym. 

2. remember the facts

When I am in the middle of work and I get a random, terrifying thought, I tell myself some facts about the present moment. I am at my computer. I am typing. I am working on a blog post and my dogs are on the floor. I don't need to worry about whether I've received that email. I'll check my email in an hour.  (jumping from task to task as you think of them is not super effective because it can take up to 20 minutes to re-focus on a task once you have broken focus). 

Part of our survival revolves around finding the bad. It's most of what our brain looks for. (learn more about negativity bias)

So, when I get anxious out of nowhere I think, "thanks for the warning, evolution! I'm not in danger right now so I will pay attention to this stuff in an hour." 

The ratio of how much bad stuff we notice compared to how much good stuff we notice is insane. Most of the things my brain perceives as threats are minor or nonexistent. When I am in the middle of something and I have a thought that might actually need attention, I write it down on a post-it and I get back to the task at hand. I'll let future-sim handle that one. 

keep moving 

When my anxiety is so big that it yanks my attention, I have no choice but to pay attention to it or else it will eat me up. However, there is some anxiety that I can choose to move past. I can hear it, I can say, "yep, I see you," and then I can move on. That way, it doesn't have to derail my task, but I don't ignore it so much that it gets bigger. 

I can acknowledge it, set it aside, and then keep moving. 

Simone Hunt