Anxiety is as commonplace in our daily lives as cellphones, microwavable food and drive-thru coffee shops. If your patients are like everyone else, they worry about paying their bills on time, the health and welfare of their loved ones and advancing in their careers.
But, does that mean anxiety is bad? No, not at all. In fact, some degree of anxiety is healthy for us. Without it, we would have a tough time getting motivated to do things we don’t like such as showing up for work on time or registering for college courses. It also helps us find solutions to difficult problems by forcing us to consider the outcomes of multiple courses of action. In other words, it helps us plan the steps needed for effectively solving problems.
Unfortunately, many people associate anxiety with psychiatric illness and believe that professional help is the answer. This perception is, in part, the fault of media. It’s also because of what we’ve been taught in graduate school, which is that we are the best source of comfort and relief for our patients. The reality is that not all of our patients need to see a shrink and be put on medication or endure months of talk therapy to manage their anxiety.
In fact, unless their anxiety keeps them from going to work or enjoying life, all they need to do is use some basic and straightforward techniques. And you can encourage them to do so.
Which techniques? Well, the most successful techniques often are based in common sense, not some abstract psychological theory. Here are four sure-fire techniques for helping your clients beat back the annoying anxiety that hides in every nook and cranny of their psyche.
1.Stay in the present. A popular movement in the professional and secular areas of psychological wellness is mindfulness, or the intentional direction of one’s focus to the present moment. If your clients are able stay in the here-and-now and avoid labeling and judging what’s going on around them and allow themselves to just “be,” then their mind will be unable to create anxiety. There are various schools of psychotherapy based on this core principle. However, individuals can use basic mindfulness techniques on their own schedule and within the context of their own understanding. Maybe all you need to do is teach them the proper use of mindfulness over one or two sessions.
2. Think of pleasant childhood memories. No, this technique is not the same as having your patient connect with his or her inner child. All it requires of them is to conjure up some positive moments from their past. As you are aware, a person’s mind is really bad at deciding whether what’s going on in their head is in the past or is happening now. As a result, the person can trick his/her brain and body into reliving the positive emotions and thoughts that come from reconnecting with their younger self. Yes, there are some people who will believe that they have no positive childhood memories. However, with gentle exploration, most everyone can identify at least a few.
3. Practice acceptance. There is age-old wisdom that directs us to change the things we can and accept the things we can’t. This guidance is perfect when it comes to dealing with day-to-day anxiety. For many people, the inability to let go of things that are out of their control fuels chronic and disruptive anxiety. If you have a client in this siutation then it’s time to help him or her let it go.
4. Practice avoidance. I know. Generally speaking, avoidance is not a healthy strategy for dealing with anxiety. But in some instances, staying away from people, places and things that make you anxious can be the best medicine. Ask your client to identify those triggers in his or her daily life and practice some evasive maneuvers.
*A previous version of this article was published in Dr. Moore’s column Kevlar for the Mind, which is published in Military Times.