We all experience varying levels of anxiety, those overwhelming ‘what if’ worrying thoughts.
But how do we manage anxiety, turn off the ‘what if’s’, and overcome our own thoughts and worries?
The first step is to understand what anxiety is and what we are trying to combat.
Anxiety shows up in many different ways and can affect us differently. The main concept of anxiety is a fear or worrying feeling about a stressful situation. It’s important to know that anxiety is a normal feeling to have with stressful situations. It’s our mind telling our body that something important is going on. It’s our natural “warning system” telling us that something important is happening. With knowing that we can then determine how to manage are anxiety.
Anxiety comes from worrying thoughts and sometimes those thoughts are related to the spiraling ‘what if’s’.
“What if I forget something? What if I don’t do this right?
What if I didn’t make a good impression? What if I disappoint?”
What if what if what if?
To overcome these anxiety provoking thoughts, we have to challenge the ‘what if’ thoughts and focus on the here and now, what’s factual and what is current.
An easy way to get us back into the here and now and derail those spiraling ‘what if’ thoughts is by using our 5 senses of sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound. If you feel your mind going to a place that is creating anxiety and thinking about ‘what if’s’, the easiest exercise to do is use one of your 5 senses to get you grounded in the here and now.
I usually recommend looking at a calming picture, smell a pleasing scent like a candle or lotion, or touching something that brings comfort, like a soft blanket. These grounding exercises can bring us back into the here and now and disrupt the what if thoughts that may be creating anxiety.
A good quick exercise to use is splashing some cold water on your face or holding ice to get your mind focused on the sense of cold versus our wandering thoughts.
In addition to using grounding exercises, you can dispute the what if thoughts by considering the possibility versus probability. Much of our what if thoughts and worries can be disputed by challenging the probability of them happening. Take that what if thought and challenge it by saying “is this really highly probable? Do I NEED to be worrying about this right now?” Those simple challenging thoughts may give you enough to break from that spiraling anxiety thought cycle.
Utilize your coping skills to keep your mind engaged in positive things and distracted from anxiety provoking thoughts.
In a previous article, we discussed what coping skills are and how they can help:
Remember that any activity that you enjoy and that helps you feel better is considered a coping skill. Give yourself and your mind some self-care by spending at least 5 minutes a day doing something you enjoy while getting your mind off worrying thoughts.
The practice of being aware of your current moment.
An approach I like to practice when it comes to anxiety is being mindful and asking myself if the current thoughts are relevant to my current moment. Thoughts come and go in and out of our minds all day. Allow your mind to continue to flow and only hold onto the thoughts that are relevant to your current moment in order to decrease anxiety.
This is a good mindset to apply with those previously mentioned grounding exercises.
Use your 5 senses and apply only present moment focused thoughts to whatever you may be seeing, tasting, hearing, feeling, or smelling at that current moment.
Challenge yourself to practice mindfulness grounding exercises as soon as you wake up and prior to bed to see how it helps.
Remember, anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experience. It’s okay to have anxiety about something important, scary, or stressful. That’s our mind letting us know that it is in fact something important.
It’s okay to tell yourself it is okay to feel and to utilize your skills to help you manage those feelings.
It’s also okay to seek support to help with adding additional skills and exercises to help with managing and overcoming anxiety. Processing those anxiety related thoughts is another helpful way to manage and overcome the anxiety you may be experiencing. This can be done with your existing support group or from a therapist, even with a one-time consultation.