I have seen an endless number of clients who experience clinical levels of anxiety. It’s a common experience. However, these symptoms can be helped. A combination of medication (if necessary and should be a discussion between you and your doc) and talk therapy can really decrease the power these thoughts have over you.
I like to use a box analogy (hence the photo on this post) to visually describe what happens to some people with anxiety. When you limit what you do to avoid situations, people or things that make you anxious, I see that as creating a wall of a box. You create a protective layer around yourself and before you know it, you can’t go anywhere. It is only safe inside the box.
How do you break out that box?
Acknowledging that these are just your thoughts is an amazing and challenging first step. Learning to let go of these thoughts or knowing that the moment, the thoughts and the experience will pass is another incredibly challenging but wonderful step.
In the mindfulness school of thinking, I am a big proponent of “riding the wave.” If you imagine your cravings, anxiety invoking thoughts as waves, you can choose to just ride over them (like the chocolate cake on my counter that is eyeing me right now!) on a surfboard. Design that surfboard in whatever way you like (I’ll wait). Long, wood, a boogie board with a life vest and engine. It’s your creation! When something makes you anxious you can remind yourself in a calm and soothing voice that the moment will pass. The craving will decrease, the discomfort will not last forever and that you can move onto another thought. Focus on your breath, the place you feel the anxiety/urge in your body and ride the wave. The wave will reach its highest point (at around 20-30 minutes for some) and then break, no longer having the power and force it once did. If you try to tough it out (like me) and fight back or stare down your anxiety/urge/thought the process can take longer. The wave might continue building and not crest because you are feeding it with your energy.
In my own chocolate cake example, I choose instead to focus on my breathing, drink water ride the urge. In my head, my surfboard is badass! I really have taken a surf lesson and, believe me, you do not want to witness that hot mess. In my head, however, I rock that pop up on my hot pink glitter covered board. It is modgebodged with famous female surfers faces which includes the woman in the movie “Blue Crush” because really that is my closest surfing experience beyond my own, but I digress. By the time I gather these thoughts, focus on my breath numerous other thoughts have come into my head: I should probably work on my blog. Did I take the dog out? I left laundry in the machine! I don’t have space in my head for a sugary food craving and my saliva has stopped swishing around my mouth. I rode that wave!
Using some cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tools, anxious thoughts can be replaced over time with more rational and evidenced based thoughts. The fear of leaving your home and wondering if you locked your door (which can be totally anxiety producing) can be replaced with: I am usually good with locking the door. I live in a low crime neighborhood. My old TV is so heavy, I could barely move it in- no one would steal it. No one wants your warcraft keychain thingy! These rational and evidence-based thoughts can be comforting and let you move on with your priorities of the day.
Over time, by practicing these thought changing activities, you can break out of the box you have created. Yes, there are a lot of analogies in this post. Confusing? Maybe, but they work.