Hey there! I’m going to deep dive into some effective strategies for facing anxious situations, and how to kick butt no matter how much you’re writhing inside.
But before I begin, I’d like to talk about the two types of anxiety this article addresses.
First, there is generalized, chronic anxiety. This could either be as a result of an anxiety disorder, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), or phobia.
You may or may not have something going wrong in your life that makes you experience on going anxiety.
This type of anxiety is ongoing, and requires new habits and consistent effort to manage.
The second type is short-term or, as I call it, “imminent” anxiety, which is anxiety experienced by an extremely temporary situation that you must face.
For example, finding a spider in your bedroom when you have arachnophobia; having to give a presentation in front of a group of people when you have social phobia; or going to a job interview when you are prone to anxiety about getting the job, are all temporary situations that can cause extreme anxiety.
You may experience extreme anxiety leading up to the situation, or while facing the situation, but it is different than the anxious base that people like me with chronic anxiety deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Part 1: Managing Temporarily Anxious Situations
People with heightened anxiety tend to handle anxious situations in different ways.
Some people shut down when faced with an anxious situation. They freeze, or panic. Their performance is severely impaired, or they avoid putting themselves in these situations to begin with.
Panic takes over and the automatic response is to flee, or avoid the situation altogether. The default response to extreme stress or anxiety is inaction.
I fall into the so-called “high-functioning” anxiety spectrum. I feel panic and extreme anxiety, but I am able to brute force my way through anxious situations.
Stress makes some people irritable and angry, while in others it makes them depressed and withdrawn.
Either way, extreme anxiety is a miserable situation. If you have high-functioning anxiety, you may experience on-going feelings of dread, fear, and a constant state of panic because you regularly find yourself in anxiety-provoking situations in your day-to-day life.
If you avoid anxious situations, or freeze up, you may experience feelings of being a failure, or you sense that you could do more in life, but that you are hijacked by your anxiety.
The good news is that no matter where you are on the anxiety spectrum, you can improve the way you respond to anxious situations.
1) Medication & Therapy
The two most popular methods to deal with anxiety are medication and therapy.
Medication can dull the panic to allow you to face situations that make you anxious.
There are anti-anxiety medications that you can take on an as-needed basis. I won’t mention them here, though, only because I feel that it is critically important to discuss any medication options with a psychiatrist who is familiar with your medical history.
Therapy can help desensitize you to phobias, or alter your cognitive behavior so that you can reduce your anxiety when faced with an anxious situation.
Systematic desensitization is a therapy typically used for phobias. The basic idea is that the more you are exposed to the thing you fear, the less power that fear has over time.
Familiarity overcomes fear through systematic exposure to the thing you fear.
I have arachnophobia, which means I am absolutely terrified of spiders. I mean, my body automatically kicks into a fight or flight response when I see one in close proximity to me.
But I’ve taken steps to learn as much as I can about spiders. I’ve joined spider identification groups on Facebook where I regularly see pictures of them in my feed. I own several books on spider biology.
When I’m outside, I force myself to observe them. I’m able to photograph them, and then look them up in a book or online.
The next step for me is to have someone catch one in a jar with a lid on and give it to me to hold. I would need to hold a spider in a glass jar for a few minutes, gradually increasing my time. Then remove the lid. And eventually, allow a spider to crawl across my hand.
It may take a therapist for this level of desensitization therapy and that’s okay.
The same works for life problems that cause anxiety. The more you learn about and experience the thing that makes you anxious, the better you will become at facing that fear.
If you are terrified of public speaking, then you have to take some baby steps toward speaking to a group. Join ToastMasters, or some public speaking group.
Give a presentation to one person, then a handful of people, and work your way up from there.
3) Give Yourself An Anxiety Break
This tactic is useful when you are dreading an upcoming situation that is making you anxious, such as giving a presentation or going in for a job interview.
You can also use this tactic for long-term anxious situations, such as divorce, financial problems, job loss, etc.
The purpose of this tactic is to allow yourself to experience your anxiety in a mindful way. It helps to train you to become more tolerant of being uncomfortable.
Set a timer on your phone for five minutes, then just sit with your anxiety. Be mindful of the discomfort, the uncertainty, and the way it makes you feel.
Don’t run from it. Don’t try to stuff it down. Just sit within the discomfort.
Once your timer goes off, set the timer for another five minutes.
This time, flip your anxious thoughts about your upcoming situation toward positive outcomes. That’s right, spend the next five minutes plotting out best-case-scenarios as if they were a sure thing!
What this does is give you some control over your worry. Instead of worry running on default, you are setting boundaries. When you set the boundaries, you are better able to be mindfully anxious rather than mindlessly worrying.
4) Self Talk
When you feel panic welling up inside you, try taking a deep breath and give yourself a pep talk.
I find that reminding myself that everything is okay, and then listing off all the things that are going well in my life, is enough to force the panic to subside.
Get your mind off the catastrophic track and focus on the positive aspects of your life.
You can use positive self talk as you face an anxious situation. In fact, talking yourself through an anxious situation (when appropriate) can help reduce the stress and panic.
5) Relaxation & Breathing Techniques To Ease Panic
If you are anxious, you tend to take shallow breaths. This signals your body that there is something to be anxious about. It triggers more anxiety.
Our thoughts influence our breathing. Anxious thought cause rapid, shallow breaths that exacerbate tension in your back, shoulders, and chest.
You do not need to wait until panic takes over to practice mindful breathing. Take breaks throughout the day to release tension and breathe.
While you breathe, focus on changing your negative thoughts.
Here are three techniques that you can try:
- Slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose, filling your lungs.
- Exhale slowly.
- Continue this gentle breathing pattern as you relax. Try to remove all thoughts from your mind.
- This breathing pattern is the opposite of that which comes automatically during anxious moments.
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose.
- Hold your breath to the count of “three.”
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw and shoulders.
- Practice this calming breath at least five times a day for several weeks until it becomes a daily habit.
- Use this breathing technique any time you begin to feel anxiety or panic building.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a long, deep breath and then exhale it slowly while saying the word “relax” silently.
- Next, take ten slow breaths. Breathing in and out though your nose. Count down with each exhale, starting with “ten.”
- While you are breathing, release any tension in your body.
- When you reach “one,” open your eyes again.
6) Mindful Meditation
Similar to breathing exercises, mindful meditation pulls you out of ruminating on past or future events, and plants your focus on the present moment.
Simply sit up in a chair or cross-legged on the floor and take deep breaths.
Focus on your breathing – the sounds, the sensations of air entering through your nose, and filling your lungs.
You can also meditate on a mandala, the flame of a candle, or your favorite crystal.
Expand your focus beyond your own breathing to take in sounds, thoughts, and sensations.
Now is not the time to judge your thoughts, or force particular thoughts.
Simply observe your thoughts, and then let them go. Return your focus on your breathing, and expand your focus again.
I have a hard time with meditation in this way, so I like to lose myself in a more active form of meditation like drawing. Adult coloring books are another way to let your creativity flow.
Part 2: Managing Anxiety When Life Knocks You Down
Quite often, our anxieties are directed at inconsequential bumps in the road.
I know that a LOT of what I worry about isn’t too significant in the long run.
Or I worry about things that haven’t happened yet, and may never happen.
But once in a while, things beyond my control force a drastic and sudden life change.
When this happens, my baseline anxiety surges. This is when I feel the physical symptoms of anxiety.
And the anxiety isn’t temporary. It hangs over me until the situation resolves – sometimes days later, or weeks, or months.
When under prolonged periods of stress, or facing uncertain or difficult times, anxiety can threaten to destabilize you when you need to be at your best.
So what can you do?
How can you weather the storm and come out resilient?
Here are some additional things you can do to survive your anxious life circumstances:
1) Build Perspective
Anxiety does one thing really well, and that is put 100% of your attention on the worst thing that can or will happen.
When I am in the grips of anxiety, I don’t see the big picture. I don’t see solutions, possibilities, or ways to use a negative situation to my advantage.
Instead, I fixate on the problem, and the catastrophic outcome that I have built up in my mind.
To combat this anxious tunnel vision, it’s important to build perspective.
Start by doing some research into the problem you face. Learn all you can about it.
Read stories from people who have gone through what you face. Read the “survivor stories”.
Anxiety feeds on uncertainty. The less you know, the greater your anxiety, and the more your imagination will run wild.
If you find yourself facing an anxious situation like job loss, business failure, divorce, illness, then do your research.
Find out the process so you know what to expect in the coming days or months. What are the solutions or alternatives? Read about people who have come through what you are facing.
Don’t just look for the catastrophic stories, or read internet posts from people who are in that situation currently. Find the survivor stories.
Widen your perspective so that you can see the big picture. Don’t just focus on this one thing that is causing anxiety. Your life doesn’t end here.
Instead, look beyond the anxious situation that you are facing. Begin working on the next chapter, now. There isn’t much that can happen to you than you can’t completely put behind you in a few months, or a year.
But you don’t have to wait.
2) Look For Possibilities
When I’m anxious, I focus on problems. And these problems are catastrophes – at least that is how I tend to perceive them.
But one of the best ways to temper anxiety is to make the decision to consider alternative possibilities and look for solutions.
First, flip worse-case-scenarios into best-case-scenarios. Train yourself to not accept the default, worse-case-scenarios that your brain feeds you.
You can also list various “okay-case-scenarios” where you can find solutions to mitigate risk, reduce consequences, or quickly recover.
I recommend writing these out.
Don’t just accept your brain’s automatic thought patterns. Challenge them. Demand evidence, and look for alternatives.
The other thing to keep in mind is that losing something can open up doors for bigger and better things.
Sometimes you need to let go and lose something before you can step into a life that you truly love.
3) Acceptance & Letting Go
Some things are just out of our control. As difficult as it might be, letting go can help release your grip on attachment, freeing you to move on to what’s next.
Whether it’s a house, a job, a relationship, or a direction you thought your life would take, becoming adaptive and creative with how you go through life will help mitigate anxiety.
You’ve probably heard the saying that when one door closes, another one opens.
I’ve also heard it said this way: Sometimes you need to lose everything so that you can be free to be who you want to be.
Letting go and thinking beyond your current situation helps you put your worries into perspective, and leads you toward solutions.
But I know it’s hard to let go of something that you want right now. Sometimes it takes time to get to that point. Sometimes you can shift your perspective, reevaluate your priorities, and let go sooner rather than later.
And by “let go”, I am not at all saying “give up”.
Letting go is the act of removing yourself from attachment so that you can focus on achieving something better.
For example, if you find being yourself laid off from your job, your feelings of anxiety, betrayal, and fear are valid.
But letting go of that job and that experience can help you find a better job, or perhaps open yourself to travel, or moving to a new city, or starting up a business that you’ve always dreamed of.
Letting go of your attachment, especially when that attachment is being taken away from you (through, for example, a divorce, a layoff, business failure, or foreclosure), opens you up to a more positive, solution-focused frame of mind.
When you let go, you see possibilities instead of focusing solely on the problem that you are facing.
Giving up, on the other hand, is surrendering to self-pity and absolving responsibility to seek opportunities. It is not an effective strategy to deal with anxiety.
4) Get Support
Aside from a therapist who can coach you through difficult times in your life, you can join a support group.
There are support groups for people dealing with loss, foreclosure, unemployment, various anxiety disorders – you name it.
If you are seeing a therapist, they will likely know about local support groups that you can join.
At the very least, I guarantee that you can find specific support groups online – either private Facebook groups, or other online forums where you can connect with others who are going through a similar situation, or have come through it and found sunshine on the other side.
Don’t struggle in isolation. Reach out and find support.
Read More: Understanding Anxiety & How To Get Rid Of It
Read More: Natural Remedies For Anxiety