How often do you find yourself worrying about some that *might* happen? "My daughter is sick so I *might* get sick" or "If I go to this party I *might not* have anyone to talk with" or any version of "I am not enjoying this present moment because of something that *might* happen in the future"...
Another way that this "future focused" worry shows up is with the phrase "What if...?". How many times a day to you find yourself questioning "What if...?" "What if...my car breaks down?" "What if....I forget to pick up my daughter from school?" "What if....no one shows up to my presentation?" "What if...I get hurt?" "What if....I fail?"
When we are "future focused" and feeling stressed about what *might* happen or asking the question "What if...?", we can be pretty darn sure that our Anxiety is in the driver's seat. This version of our Anxiety is called "Anticipatory Anxiety" and it is one of the most Annoying Versions of our Anxiety! It spends so much time and energy getting us to get our panties in a wad about what *might* happen that we are unable to simply *be* in the present moment. Guess what folks? The only place where we have any ability to actually live is....wait for it....IN THE PRESENT MOMENT! When Anxiety distracts us from the Actual Present Moment by encouraging us to Worry about the Future...it is stealing our lives, stealing joy, stealing our ability to live and simply *Be*. It is making our world smaller and smaller. It is like we are paying interest on a debt that we may never actually owe!
The other thing that Anticipatory Anxiety does to us is to distract us from knowing that if the dreaded thing that we worry *might* happen actually does happen WE WILL KNOW (OR FIGURE OUT) WHAT TO DO! Anticipatory Anxiety convinces us that we are stupid or incompetent when, in Reality (also known as The Present Moment) we are all Way More Competent than we give ourselves credit for!
Think about the last time something "bad" (I am using this term for simplicity....we may have a lesson on how I don't believe in "good" vs. "bad" very soon...) happened. Did you handle it? Deal with it? Come to a resolution? Yeah, I thought so! It was probably Uncomfortable for a moment or two (OK, maybe for even longer than that...) AND you dealt with it and it is over and behind you now. You are capable and competent and you dealt with whatever happened. Oh, and guess what? Any worrying that you did before that "bad" event....it is not what assisted you in dealing with the event....you did that on your own....in the Present Moment!
So how do we break our Worry Habit and learn to spend more time enjoying our lives in The Present Moment? Here are some ideas for you:
So you tend to experience Anxiety...what does it feel like for you? Racing heart? Check! Shortness of breath? Check! Shaking of hands, feet, arms, legs? Check! Yep, sounds like Anxiety alright....
Know what else it sounds like? Excitement. Anticipation. Of course we could also consider Trepidation...but that is not so helpful, right?
The point is this, sometimes we get to choose what to "label" our physical symptoms, so what if we called it Excitement instead of Anxiety?
Our words are very powerful and we tend to believe whatever we are thinking. So it is up to us to change the words to ones that empower us rather than ones that leave us feeling weak in the knees! Negative thinking is simply a habit, so let's work on creating more positive habits when it comes to our anxiety!
Here are three steps to reframing our thoughts to embrace more positive thinking:
1) Start by observing how often your thoughts go to the negative. Do you frequently say things like "I'm anxious to hear how your day went" or "I worry about how this project will turn out"?
2) Pick one or two of our "favorite" words or phrases and choose now ways to say them. Instead of "I'm anxious..." replace that with "I'm eager..." and instead of "I worry about..." change that to "I wonder how...?".
3) Be compassionate with yourself and be playful as you begin this new way of thinking and expressing yourself. As the saying goes "old habits ARE hard to break" AND I like to add to that "it is possible!" Just begin with small steps, catch yourself saying "anxious" and change it right then and there to "eager" or "excitement" or "anticipate" or whatever word moves your world forward!
My birthday was last week. It was one of those ones where people say "Oh, that's a BIG ONE" and then look at your face to see how well you are dealing with adding another year to your Life Resume. For the most part I am embracing the opportunities that adding another year brings (Anxiety and I did A LOT of work around this aging thing about a decade ago...) and decided to do something new and unique, so on the 50th Anniversay of the Day of my Birth I spent an hour floating in a Salt Float! I guess you could say that I Floated into Fifty....literally!
When I heard about plans for Salt Float business opening in my hometown, I was intrigued. I did some research about what Salt Floats are (picture yourself laying in a big bathtub in a water/epsom salt mixture that is just short of being a gel....you definitely float!) and their benefits (great for sinus issues, detoxing, stress relief) including "anxiety relief". Hmmm....this sounded interesting. So, I decided that I would book a session as a present to myself. Disclaimer: one of the main reasons that I was interested was that, as an introvert (does that surprise you that I tend to be more introverted? I consider myself a "social introvert"....more on that another time!) the thought of spending an hour in a dark and quiet room with no one saying "MOMMY", no ringing phones or pings from devices, and no one asking me anything from me....yep, sounded like a little bit of paradise!
Now, I would imagine that some of you already have Anxiety's annoying little voice in your head, the one that brings up what could go wrong, the "what ifs", and is just a great big scaredy cat when it comes to anything new or outside of your comfort zone. Yeah, my Anxiety does that too!
Fortunately for me I have done a lot of work to get my Anxiety to work more as an Ally than an Enemy, so I pretty quickly moved past the typical “anxiety provoking” thoughts like “it will be dark and dark is scary” or “will the salt hurt if it gets in my ears (nose, throat, eyes, other sensitive parts)?” or my favorites (those pesky “what ifs”) “What if something goes wrong?” or “What if I don’t like it?”. I thought this was going to be a breeze….silly me!
My Anxiety will still take opportunities (often when I am doing something “new” or “unknown”) to attempt to at least unnerve me and, if it gets it’s way, cause me to Panic. So here is how it went down…
I arrive on time and fill out the paperwork. You sign this waiver that says, among other things, that they are not liable if you get hurt or die and that if you don’t follow their rules (shower with their soap and get all of your “contaminants” off of you before entering the float tub) and they find your tub contaminated you owe them a hefty fine. OK, so my Anxiety tries to freak me out, but it’s not working…yet…
A very nice young woman comes out and invites me back and I get the tour of the facility. All good so far. She shows me the room and gives me instructions and then I am on my own. Still excited (have you ever noticed that anxious and excited feel about the same, so I tend to label any similar feelings as “excited”) and now I start to prepare to enter the tub. Now is when it gets a little bit…shall we say…interesting? Just before I take my shower I put in the wax earplugs as per the instructions. Guess what? Plugging my ears does not go over well with my sinuses and my sense of balance! Oh, wow, Anxiety has a foot in the door. I literally feel unbalanced and Anxiety starts whispering (actually louder than a whisper) “this is not going to end well” and “this is uncomfortable”. When I “hear” the word “uncomfortable” it triggers my memory and I remind myself that the goal is not to be comfortable. The goal is to continue the experience. Being uncomfortable for a moment or two is just part of the experience (and part of life). This is not a life or death situation! So I breathe and keep moving forward.
Now I am in the tank and the temperature is comfortable and I get myself situated and am ready to turn off the light. So far so good. I have the option of having music playing (you know that awesome meditation type music you hear when you get a massage….the kind you do not play in the car while driving because you will fall asleep!) and decide to play the music. And then I lay there (OK, float there, because you literally cannot make yourself sink….I tried!) and my senses start attempting to make sense of this new situation. At first it is mostly curious. Then I start thinking…”my feet are kind of cold”…so I dip them under the water….”my arms are getting uncomfortable”….so I put them over my head (side note: I found this to be the most comfortable position….like a starfish!)…still so far so good.
And then Anxiety jumped in and pulled out these doozies….😳
Apparently three attempts were enough for my Anxiety and she backed off, and we both relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the Float! I was able to clear my mind (or at least mostly think about what I wanted to think about rather then what Anxiety wanted me to focus on) and simply "be" without having to "do" anything. When asked about my experience by the nice young woman, I shared that there was simply a learning curve (which she shared that she related to as she recalled her first float) and that I would be up for the adventure again since I had learned so much!
So what did I learn? First and foremost that no matter how much work I do to keep a working relationship with my Anxiety, there may always be situations where she will go back to her old tricks and I will be given an Opportunity to practice my skills (walk my talk you might say!).
Here are my top three takeaways:
P.S.- I did notice benefits from the salt float. My sinuses were clearer (for about a day) then they had been in quite some time, my skin felt somehow "renewed" (I don't know if I can explain that any better), and let's just say that my body eliminated some serious toxins later that day 😊. If anyone is intested, here is the link for Float Frederick’s website:
A few years ago I signed up for a continuing education workshop that was conveniently being held right here in my hometown of Frederick. No getting up super early or sitting in traffic on I-270 South, it was right in downtown at the Delaplaine and so I signed up. It probably didn't even matter what the topic was going to be, it was a convnience thing! Keep in mind that CEU workshops are very often a big disappointment. While the topic may sound appealing, the presenters often take half the morning talking about themselves and then spend the rest of the day getting off topic by answering the personal questions of the audience memebers. I have to get 40 CEU's every two years, so sometimes I go for convenience.
I arrive, see several colleagues and do the whole "networking" thing, and now it is time for the prevention to start. After his introduction, the presenter tells the audience that he does not answer questions during his presentation. He basically insinuates that if you attempt to ask a question that is not completely relevant to the whole group, that he will be quick to embarrass you. OK, so I may like this guy. He definitely has my attention.
About an hour into the presentation there is a technical glitch. After a couple of attempts at fixing it the presenter says "Fuck!". I text my husband, "I am really enjoying this presentation. The presenter just said 'fuck'." My husband texts back "OK, well I"m driving past where you are, wave to me" and I reply, "Hell no, the presenter will think I'm trying to ask a question!".
So all of this would probably be funnier if you had been there. I tell it because these are memories from a day that changed the course of my career and my life. The presenter was Reid Wilson and his presentation was on how work with Anxiety. I resonated so much with his approach that it started the ball rolling toward what is now my Auntie Anxiety "brand" of coaching and counseling.
One of the key components of Reid's work is distinguishing the difference between signals and noise in our heads. It is the first step in learning how to "talk back" to your anxiety. He has a great book that I often recommend to clients, "Stopping the Noise in Your Head". He also has some cool videos about how to do this (as well as other great resources) on his website www.anxieties.com (a direct link to the fun videos is www.noiseinyourhead.com)
Worry is supposed to be a trigger for problem solving. When worry becomes pervasive, it becomes a problem (no solving going on!). Noticing the difference between Signals and Noise opens the space for worry to do it's intended job without become a pervasive pain in the ass!
Here are some ways to get started with this proces of noticing the difference between signals and noise:
1) When you notice an anxious thought or worry has popped into your head, Step Back. If you are stuck in the worry, you can't determine if it is a Signal or Noise, so the first step is to Step Back and examine the worry as if you are an observer.
2) Determine if their is an Action that can be taken. Remember that Worry's job is to trigger problem solving. If there is an Action to be taken, then take Action! If there is no action to be taken, then the Worry is just Noise and it is time to go back to whatever you were doing (you know, like sleeping!).
3) One tricky piece of this Signal vs. Noise game is that Anxiety will attempt to trick you into staying with the worry and doing irrelevant things like "checking to make sure". If the Action step is irrelevant to actually solving a "real" problem, then it is time to work on sitting with the uncomfortable feeling of being uncertain about all those pesky thoughts like whether you locked the door or washed your hands.
So now if is time to go about your day and see if you can incorporate this distinction between Signals and Noise. Notice it, play with it, and leave me a comment telling me about your experience with this practice.
How many times have you thought, "I don't want to feel anxious" or "I want my anxiety to go away"? More time than you can count, right? So here's the reason that anxiety won't go away...it actually has a very important job, which is to keep you safe and to help you control your impulses. Did you know that a fear of heights actually has more to do with being afraid that you won't control your impulse to jump? Let that sink in for a moment...
So fighting your anxiety, wanting it to go away, wishing that you could strangle it...all of that resistance has set up a really challenging relationships between you and your anxiety. You might say that you perceive each other as enemies! So how does one go about turning an enemy into an ally, even a friend? I have heard that Mahatma Ghandi was a master at this. He would "feed" his enemy (the English officers sent to get him to end the strikes) by delaying the officers fear based conversation and offering them tea and biscuits. He would then share his dreams and goals while they shared this "civilized" ritual of tea. Every time the Enemy (British officer) would attempt to bring his fear to the table, Ghandi would continue to feed him, infusing the tea and biscuits with love based information about his cause. It worked like a charm, by the time the officer was ready to leave, he had a better understanding of Ghandi and his cause. They parted as ally's toward a common goal of peace.
Now you are saying to yourself, "Yeah, great story, but how do my anxiety and I learn to appreciate each other and get along?" Great question and thanks for asking ;-).
1) When we remember that Anxiety's job is to keep us safe and monitor our impulses, we "feed" it by acknowledging this very important job that it does (you like it when you spouse or boss or some other random person in your life acknowledges you, right?)
2) Then remind it that you are not hard of hearing and that it can turn the volume down a bit.
3) Once the volume is turned down, have a civil conversation with your anxiety and work to come to an understanding about who is in charge (You are, in case you were wondering) and how you are going to learn to work together better than you have up to this point.
Personifying and externalizing (big fancy words for "pretend your anxiety is a person standing in front of you") your anxiety allows you to interact with it and move from feeling that it is in control and an enemy to be feared to working together to become allies and even friends!
So here we are, at the very beginning of a new year....is this the year that you and your Anxiety are going to learn to appreciate each other? Will you become a Team in 2017???
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor