Anxiety disorders have become quite common – by some estimates, as many as 18% of American adults have an anxiety disorder at any given time. This type of anxiety is destructive to your life and well-being. It can interfere with your relationships, intrude on your career and be destructive to your health.
Characteristics of an anxiety disorder include excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worrying about everyday matters in a disproportionate way. Though different people experience different types of symptoms, the most common forms of anxiety disorders are:
- Phobias (irrational, disproportionate fear of certain settings, objects or situations – ranging from spiders to elevators to leaving home)
- Social Anxiety (discomfort interacting with people you don’t know or functioning in unfamiliar settings or situations)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (intrusive, unpleasant thoughts that you seek to control with certain rituals – for example, excessive handwashing due to a fear of getting sick)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (following a trauma, symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance or numbness)
Stop Anxiety in Its Tracks
When you find yourself feeling anxious, I suggest you try a meditative technique that is designed to bring you back to the present moment – to the reality that you are, right now, in a safe and secure place. You can do this by reminding yourself to come back to the present.
Next time you experience anxious thoughts about something unrelated to what you are actually doing, stop yourself – literally say, in your brain or out loud, “stop.”
Ask yourself this question: “Am I leaving the current moment?” (Of course the answer is “yes,” but the question is a prompt that will help you push the anxiety away and return to the present.
Now look around at your surroundings – whether you are in your car, your office, outdoors or at home. Even if you’ve been in this same location thousands of times before, make a point to look carefully at what’s around you and describe it to yourself (again, out loud or in your mind – your choice).
Then describe what you are doing (“paying bills” or “driving home from work,” for example). Remind yourself why you are doing this. This part of the exercise anchors you in the life you are living.
Now take a moment to focus on your feelings – both physical sensations (sitting on a hard wooden chair in a cool room, breathing) and emotions (drained, sad, anxious). Feel all of it, for a moment or two … and then, breathing deeply, consciously relax your muscles. Each time you exhale, repeat a mantra that validates your self-worth. Two that I like are “I am more than this” and “I am a whole human being.”
After you have done this a few times, you may find that you are developing the ability to notice – tolerate – and then move past your anxious feelings.