Anxiety has a nasty habit of feeding our fears – real or imagined. It leads to excessive nervousness, fear, and unnecessary worry for a future that has not yet unfolded. Chronic anxiety is often a learned behavior stemming from the behavior of family members observed by us as children and then seeing ourselves model that behavior into adulthood in order to stay one step ahead of disaster. It is a powerful thought process fed by fear and anchored in negative future scenarios that are not based in reality. Since we are not trusting the process of life in those anxious moments, we want to be prepared for any and all “what if” moments that can impact our peace of mind. The behavior therefore always puts us on red alert!
Always living in the future has its pitfalls. Our mind-body-spirit orientation becomes disjointed because we have not trained our mind to be anchored in the present moment (which is all there is – the past is gone and the future didn’t happen yet). Our fully present bodies, listening to our negative thoughts can produce sweating, shaking, and hyperventilating.
The practice of Mindfulness can represent a helpful and self-soothing antidote to the future worries we recreate. Being mindful teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what’s happening in the present moment and focusing on that in order to ground us and orient our thoughts to the here and now. Mindfulness techniques act as a buffer against low self-efficacy and mental self-control. Practicing deep breathing to deliver depleted oxygen levels caused by stress, exercising, yoga, meditation, lavender aromatherapy, calming herbal teas, and plenty of water to hydrate us are some of the steps that can alleviate our stressful thoughts and keep us in the moment. A beneficial grounding technique that can distract us from harmful stray thoughts in anxious moments involves finding:
5 things we can see
4 things we can touch
3 things we can hear
2 things we can smell
1 thing we can taste
The exercise will orient us to stay in the moment so that the anxious “monkey mind” will stay put in the here and now.
Although we don’t want our fears to control us, we can’t discount the fact that the power of anxiety also has its place as a survival technique when responding to threat and remaining cautious in those moments. We just can’t allow it (and the irrational fear it projects) to take over and control our day-to-day living to such an extent that our anxiety incapacitates us and robs us of the ability to recognize and embrace the many positive outcomes that occur in our lives. Concentrate on building positive thoughts that challenge and outweigh the negative ones!
Practicing gratitude, staying positive, and incorporating Mindfulness into our daily life can go a long way in changing our disruptive and worrisome thought patterns so that we can recapture our joy and fearlessly anticipate all of life’s happy moments.
Irene C. Lebbad, MSW, LCSW