Anxiety, to me, is like a swarm of pesky gnats on a warm summer’s eve.
The more they swarm around me, the more irritated I get. I swat more vigorously and I most often feel like running.
Anxiety triggers a fight or flight response. We either gear up for battle or we run away in fear, hiding from the doom our minds convince us is too powerful to face. In either case, there are some classic side effects, like a shortness of breath, rapid heart-rate, sweaty hands and muscle tension.
Then there are additional and REAL side effects of anxiety:
- Less patience with my husband and kids.
- Withdrawn mood (a.k.a., I want to hide in my room and shut off the world).
- A constant feeling of fear, but not about anything specific.
- Thinking the worst case scenario is the only possible outcome.
- Extreme planning to the point of mental and physical exhaustion in an attempt to avoid the worst case scenario.
- Silly accidents like running into walls and cutting my fingers.
We all know the classic strategies to reduce anxiety, such as deep breathing and relaxation. These skills are remarkably effective and I will continue to use and promote their use.
But can I be honest about the four strategies that work best for me?
Strategy #1: Walk Outside
Simple as that. Take a walk outside. The fresh air, even when frigid), allows me to breathe deeper and feel less anxious.
Strategy #2: Expand Your View
There is a side effect of chronic and extreme anxiety called hypervigilance, characterized by a preoccupation with possible unknown threats and constantly watching and scanning surroundings. For those with PTSD and other anxiety disorders, this can last for days, weeks and months on end.
For those of us with stress-related anxiety, we can feel something similar to hypervigilance for shorter durations of time. Our focus of attention narrows. We see less in our peripheral vision, which means we are turning our heads more to see everything, or just missing information altogether (like walls, hence bumping into them more frequently).
Imagine walking down a path at night and hearing strange sounds. You feel a threat (much like we feel when anxious). As a result, you start looking around and whipping your flashlight in every direction to make sure you see a threat if it is there. With hypervigilance, your vision is similar to that flashlight. To see everything, you need to whip your vision around.
So, if anxiety can cause symptoms of hypervigilance, what can help reduce both?
Yep… expand our view. When you walk outside and take that deep breath, make an active effort to widen your field of vision. See as much as you can without turning your head. This often calms me quicker than deep breathing and relaxation.
If you cannot go outside, close your eyes and imagine the most expansive view you have ever witnessed, such as looking out over the ocean or the view from a mountaintop.
Will you let me know how it goes? I would love to know if this works for you as well as it does for me!
Strategy #3: Control Your Thoughts
Don’t allow false words to float through that beautiful head of yours! My goodness, we have enough pressure in this world working to bring us down. We certainly do not need ourselves to bring us down even further! Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a good friend in need of encouragement. Or “listen” to your thoughts by writing in a journal.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to say false things to yourself. Speak truth into your mind and heart and if that fails…
Strategy #4: Call a Friend, Counselor or Pastor
I have had seasons of my life – very anxious seasons – where it was absolutely essential for me to call on a close friend or counselor to speak truth into my mind and heart.
Sometimes the lies in my head, which are sometimes just feelings of inadequacy, need an eviction.
In seasons when my fragile heart did not trust friends with the ugliest parts of me, I found good counselors who challenged me to speak my feelings out loud. Somehow, when I allowed those feelings and words to escape my brain, they did not hold so much power. My physical symptoms of anxiety decreased and I started to think clearly again.
The most helpful words have been those reminding me of the truth about my identity as a child of God. My dear friend Casey gave me a book called Who I am in Christ which reminds me in short chapters of truths my brain has not always told me.
Another book I recommend is Believing God, by Beth Moore. It helped me to remember TRUTH when my human brain tried to convince me of my inadequacy.
So now, armed with a few lesser talked about strategies to reduce anxiety, will you let me know how they work for you?
And will you share your strategies too in the comments section below?