Sometimes, anxiety is adaptive in that it might motivate us to accomplish certain tasks. For instance, if you are feeling anxious before an exam-this emotion could serve to motivate you to spend some time preparing for the test.
However, when an individual’s anxiety starts to get in the way of his or her functioning and is out of proportion to the situation, we start to consider whether the person may be struggling with an anxiety disorder.
Whether or not an individual’s anxiety has reached the point where it’s a diagnosis, it can be helpful to examine the impact that his anxiety could be having on his life.
As a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, specializing in helping teens and adults with eating disorders, body image issues, depression, and anxiety, I employ a variety of tools and strategies when working with patients.
When it comes to helping someone who is struggling with anxiety, I often utilize mindfulness and relaxation strategies, as well as dialectical behavioral therapy skills. However, another integral component can be helping a patient to learn how to change his relationship with anxiety.
The following are three quick tips for helping clients to begin to change their relationship to anxiety, enabling them to live meaningful and joyful lives.
1.Help Them to Become Aware of Their Thoughts
I often talk with patients about how it can be helpful to pay attention to the “stories that their mind is telling them.” We have an estimated 60,000 thoughts per day. However, not everything that we think is true.
When we are experiencing anxiety, often our minds are jumping to “the worst case scenario” or are making up fear-inducing stories. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what our minds are telling us, when we are feeling anxious.
Externalizing the thoughts as “just thoughts,” can be a helpful way for individuals to recognize that they do not need to “buy into” every story that their mind is telling them.
2. Ask Them if the Thoughts are Helpful or Unhelpful
Once patients are aware of their anxious thoughts, it’s important to explore with them whether the thought or “storyline” is helpful or unhelpful. If the thought is unhelpful, then I will work with the patient to come up with some more helpful “healthy self” coping statements to tell themselves.
3. Explore the Concept of “Feeling Afraid and Taking Action Anyway.”
An important component of helping clients to change their relationship to anxiety is to explore with them the idea of how it is possible to feel anxious and to take actions that are in alignment with our values anyway.
Feeling fear or anxiety doesn’t have to hinder people’s lives or render them unable to challenge themselves. Rather, if an individual can learn to feel fear and not let it control his actions, he can transform his relationship to fear.
Another key part is to explore clients’ values. If fear or anxiety is getting in the way of their values, it would be one reason to work to change their relationship to anxiety.
It’s also crucial to help clients to practice self-compassion and being kind to themselves throughout the process of changing their relationship to anxiety. It’s important to share that many people experience anxiety and that they are certainly not alone in their struggling.
“Beating yourself up” for feeling anxious, only serves to make the person feel even worse. It’s crucial to emphasize to patients the importance of being kind to themselves, especially when they are feeling anxious or afraid.
With access to appropriate treatment and support, individuals with anxiety can go on to lead meaningful and productive lives.