If you suffer from anxiety, then you're likely all too familiar with the constant worry, the dread, and even the outright fear. But, if you have a few coping mechanisms up your sleeve, it is possible to feel better. For example, the next time you're anxious, or feel a panic attack coming on, it can help to pause and ask yourself a few questions in order to calm down.
By asking yourself the right question, such as "Is my fear based in reality or worry?" you might be able to short circuit the anxiety. "This helps to start a good, regular practice of thought-stopping and reality testing," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martintez tells Bustle. "We have to learn to be able to stop ourselves from spinning out of control with our worries and focus on what is based in reality, and what can really happen."
Don't go overboard with this trick, though. "The key with anxiety is ... not to ask yourself too many questions," says psychologist and radio show host Dr. Joshua Klapow. "Anxiety is driven by a fear of the unknown (What will happen? Will I be OK? Will I be harmed?). When you are anxious, you need an internal coach. So, instead of asking yourself, tell yourself."
Answer your questions with definitive, true statements, such as "I am safe. Nothing is actually wrong." While it won't work like magic to cure anxiety, this trick can help bring you back to reality, and that can help ease your anxiety. Read on for a few more questions you might want to ask, the next time you're truly anxious.
1. "Are my fears based in reality?"
Anxiety has a way of creating worst case scenarios in your head, which is why it helps to bring your thoughts back to reality. "I always think the best question to ask ourselves when we are feeling anxious is if our anxiety is based in any proof, experience, or reality," Martinez says. Almost always, the answer will be no. And that can be incredibly comforting.
2. "What evidence do I have for XYZ?"
The next time you're certain something bad or embarrassing is going to happen — that you'll mess up at work, that all your friends hate you, etc. — ask yourself, "What evidence do I have to support this?" Answer the question using facts, and keep it real. "The questions we want to ask need to anchor us back into reality," says Klapow. "So it always needs to focused on 'What evidence do I have?' Not ''What do I think or feel?'"
3. "What is the best, worst, and 'most realistic' scenario that is likely to play out?"
In an effort to see things for what they are, ask yourself this question. "Anxious people focus on the worst case scenario, which hardly ever happens," says therapist Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP. "Teaching yourself to focus on all three with a 'refocus’ on the most realistic (which would be the best investment) will bring your anxiety down."
4. "Based on the past, how will I end up coping with this?"
If you get nervous every day on your way to work, or each time you go to a networking event, think about how you handled the situation last time around. "You are still here. Right? Which means you have survived a lot and this, too, will be dealt with," DePompo says. "Anxious people filter out all the times they have coped and handled things well." That's why recalling past successes can really help.
5. "Am I actually going to mess up?"
Whenever you think you might screw up something important, again, ask yourself if there's any evidence to support that fear. And then answer yourself with a definitive statement. "What we ... want to focus on are self-statements that bring us away from uncertainty," Klapow says. For example, saying to yourself, "I have been fine before when I gave speeches" can be just the nudge you need before walking out on stage.
6. "Am I worrying just to worry?"
While no one worries on purpose, anxiety can become a sort of hobby for your brain. That's why it can help to ask yourself if you're worrying just to worry, Martinez tells me. Are you worrying about all the "mights" of the world — such as, "I might get sick," or "I might get fired," or "My partner and might break up" — or things that are actually happening?
7. "Is my health actually in danger?"
This one's meant to prove to yourself that no, you aren't actually sick or dying, even though your anxiety or panic may be telling you otherwise. "Anxiety is mental and physiological," Martinez says. "It is excessive worry, restlessness, racing heart, palpitations, to name a few of the symptoms." While it may feel terrible, these symptoms are actually harmless. Keep telling yourself that everything's going to be OK, until the panic passes.
8. "Am I safe?"
Sure, your brain is firing off signals that you're in danger. But, in reality, you're actually at home, or out with friends who care about you, or sitting safely at your desk at work. Look around and take in all that information, and let the true safety of your situation calm you.
10. "Why am I feeling anxious?"
If you're suddenly struck with a bout anxiety, ask yourself why. "Identifying the source of your anxiety is the most helpful way to begin," psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, MD, tells Bustle. Did someone say something to trigger your worry? Or did it just hit you out of the blue? "Trying to understand what it is about the situation that feels threatening is important."
11. "What is the story I'm creating?"
While it's not your fault that you're feeling anxious, sometimes our thoughts can make it all worse. So, ask yourself, "What story am I creating in my head?" As coach Mattison Grey, MEd, MMC (IAC) says, "For example, you have an interview for a job you really want coming up. You are anxious because you are worried about screwing up in the interview. 'Screwing up the interview' is a story you are making up about what may happen in the future." And, since it's not based in evidence of truth, you should try to let it go.
All of this is easier said that done, of course. Anxiety is a truly a force to be reckoned with. But, if you can challenge your thoughts, and ask the important questions, it might be possible to see things differently and eventually calm down, if only for a moment.
Images: Pexels (12)