Create a Little Space Between You and Your Anxiety

How do you experience anxiety?

  • Does it prevent you from doing things you need to do or want to do?
  • Do you miss out on what’s happening now because you’re so lost in your fears?
  • Do you feel your throat tighten, your heart pound, have difficulty breathing, sweat profusely, or feel your stomach tighten into knots… for no apparent reason?
  • Do you obsess about not living up to your potential?
  • When things don’t go according to plan, do you automatically think the worst?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep because of relentless “what if” thoughts?
  • Do you walk into public places and feel like everyone is looking at you?

Essentially, anxiety is an emotional condition that rests in one’s thoughts.  It’s an uneven state of mind that marinates in future fears without much influence from the facts at hand.  And anxiety is uncomfortable because it’s felt in the whole body, leaving one breathless, nauseous, sweaty, unable to think clearly, and many times, speechless and immobile.

In a very general sense, its often helpful to uncover the source of your anxiety. In other words, "How has it come to be, that you instinctually move into this anxious state?"  The process of psychotherapy can help with this unfolding and make meaning out of your experiences. But in the meantime, it’s equally beneficial to have concrete skills to reduce your chances of being highjacked by anxious thoughts.

So, how can you learn to control anxiety, so it doesn’t control you?

Try creating a little space between you ……….. and your anxiety.  Creating space might look like the following:

  1. Mindfully pause, and s-l-o–w…  t-h-i-n-g-s… d-o-w-n
  2. Name the triggers to tame the triggers. Pay attention, on purpose, to possible triggers    (things that happen right before the anxiety emerges).  Cultivate awareness of these triggers so you can plan for them, rather than avoid them.
  3. Observe what you are experiencing with curiosity, and without judgment.
  4. Identify, with words, the physical signs of anxiety as they emerge in your body (what and where you feel the discomfort). “I notice my heart is racing, and my face is hot.”
  5. Remind yourself this too will pass. Thoughts and feelings always pass. Anxiety is no different.
  6. Engage in 10 rounds of 4/5 Breathing: Inhaling deeply for 4 seconds, exhaling fully for 5 seconds.  Did you know that slow, conscious breathing is the fastest way to engage the relaxation response and ultimately, calm the nervous system? In fact, give it a try. Inhale deeply, 1-2-3-4. Exhale completely, 1-2-3-4-5. Do it a few more times and you will feel better.

Practice doesn’t make things perfect; it just make things routine.  Practice creating space, even when you aren’t feeling anxious. Periodically pause, pay attention on purpose, observe what's happening in your body and mind, notice with curiosity and without judgment, slow-things-down with 4/5 breathing, and give your nervous system the ability to balance naturally. You'll be glad you did.