A Word on Wellness:
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety, here's something to think about as we go into the final month of this year: Are you actively working to prevent anxiety or simply trying to react to and manage it once you are highly anxious? I'm going to share one way that I help clients understand how to begin to manage their anxiety in a preventative way. This is also relevant if you get stressed or overwhelmed regularly.
In therapy sessions I will often hear about the moment that the anxiety became so unmanageable it was either debilitating or highly uncomfortable. I'll hear things like, "and then I started crying out of no where" or "my heart just started racing and I felt like I couldn't breathe" or "I had to leave the meeting and pretend that I needed to make an urgent phone call because I had to be alone." Clients want to know what tools I can give them to manage that moment when they simply couldn't "fake" it anymore. And while there are tools for those moments, what I want them to see are all of the places throughout their day where they can implement these tools BEFORE the anxiety hits crisis level.
Maybe you can relate to the client who had to abruptly leave a meeting because she felt like she was getting close to a full blown panic attack * If this, or something like this, has happened to you before, it might be useful to think about what the earlier part of your day might have looked like:
[ You were running late for work, had to literally run to catch the bus. You are flustered and out of sorts upon entering the office (at this point the sympathetic nervous system - fight/flight - has been activated, but you're likely not aware of that) // Someone undermined you in a morning meeting and you were really upset but unable to say anything in the moment (Your blood pressure and heart rate have increased) // You received a text from your boyfriend that was annoying and then proceeded to get into a 5 minute text-fight // A coworker asks you for a couple of last minute documents that are needed asap // You have to walk out of the high pressure meeting scheduled for the afternoon < ---- This is where you become aware of your physical anxiety symptoms.]
Most of us are going through the day on autopilot. If this is the case, you may not be aware of the affect that these other small stressors have had on you. What if you could increase your awareness of your body and yourself moment to moment (mindfulness) so that you are aware first thing in the morning when you're running late that, "oh, I'm feeling a little agitated" and you can choose to take a couple of minutes at that point (at the start of your day) to activate the parasympathetic nervous system - rest & digest - and calm down. You can see how it's really difficult to do anything about this unless you are aware in the moment. One way to increase this awareness is asking yourself some questions throughout the day. Some examples: "how am I doing?, what do I need right now?, am I breathing?" Also, notice your behavior: are you running around the office? Are you speaking rapidly, fidgeting or unable to be still? Notice your physical body: Is there tension, heart racing, heaviness in your chest?
Once you determine that you should probably take a preventative moment to yourself, the best tool in your toolkit is your breath. So, in our fictional scenario, you may have chosen, at any point before you entered that afternoon meeting, to go to the restroom or your office and sit for 3 minutes breathing deeply, inhale, exhale. You could go for a walk around the block. You could splash water on your face.
We mistakenly think that we'll take these moments for ourselves at the end of the day. "I'll relax when it's all done." But our nervous system doesn't work that way. The longer we wait, the more these stressors compound and then we need a whole lot more than a 3 minute breather. If you are consistently struggling with anxiety/stress/overwhelm it's likely that you are ignoring your bodies cues to take a break. New Year's resolution anyone?
More tools for managing anxiety & overwhelm to come in the New Year!
* Fictional client scenarios
Something to Watch:
This video is a little silly, but does a good job of explaining what is happening with our stress responses and supports what I'm rambling about above ^
Something to Santa:
Volunteer to adopt one of the families affected by the California Wildfires.