Many people experience anxiety, it can range from mild worrying about something like an upcoming meeting to full blown panic attacks. Many people not only experience anxiety but also inwardly criticize themselves for having anxiety in the first place, which makes it worse. They try to tell themselves to relax, and when they can’t relax, they feel like something is wrong with them. Getting therapy for anxiety can be very useful in managing these symptoms.
One strategy I use when providing therapy for anxiety is to help you understand your unique way of experiencing anxiety. What thoughts do you tend to have? What physical feelings do you have? How does it start and how does your anxiety end. Knowing this can help you realize there is often a pattern to how you do anxiety. Knowing there is a pattern to your anxiety can actually help you calm yourself faster. Even though it feels bad to be anxious, you can at least remember when you’re in it that if you there is a pattern to it, there is a pattern to it ending too. Many of my clients with anxiety notice that their anxiety tends to end in a predictable way, which gives them some comfort.
The other useful thing you can do once you understand your pattern of anxiety is to realize that while you can’t control having anxiety at first, you can take some comfort in knowing it’s a familiar pattern. I know this sounds odd but it might go like this: “While it sucks to be feeling this way, this is something I do when I’m in a situation like this. I also know that since this is my unique pattern for doing anxiety I can trust that it will end soon”. Thinking of it this way has allowed many of my clients with anxiety to get over it faster. Rather than trying to stop feeling anxious (which is pretty much impossible), you “sit with” the feelings and accept them as just a temporary state. Doing this helps you relax sooner than you might normally be able to. You can start to accept the anxious feelings and symptoms as just something you tend to do when you are stressed or worried. You can see it as a type of coping mechanism you developed over time, even if it’s overdoing it at times.
When I provide therapy for anxiety issues with my clients, I often tell the story of how I discovered this process (some other smarter therapist discovered it way before me I’m sure). I had a client who came for therapy for anxiety issues and one of the things that brought up his anxiety was traveling. He worried about forgetting something important like his passport, or leaving something plugged in at home. He had a difficult time settling down for several days before he left for any trip. I asked him to describe the specifics of his anxiety and a pattern began to emerge. I accidentally suggested that if there is a pattern to what he feels when he has anxiety perhaps there is also a pattern to when it ends? He said, “Yes, it tends to end when I’m in the car driving to the airport because once I’m in the car there is nothing I can do about those things”. When he realized this, he seemed to visibly relax. Two weeks later when he came back after his trip, I asked him when his anxiety started to go away. He happily told me it went away the day before the trip. Somehow, knowing that it was going to go away as predicted made it easier to let it go sooner.