For some people, their anxiety is triggered by social or performance-related situations.
Being asked to speak at a staff meeting.
Walking through the mall. On a Saturday.
For others, their anxiety is more often stimulated by a specific person. That person. You know the one…
You read their latest Facebook post and immediately, your mood sours.
Their name appears on your caller ID and your palms start to sweat.
You see their car in the driveway and your chest tightens.
For most of the people I know who struggle with anxiety (heads-up: to some degree, that would be all humans on the planet), their anxiety appears in patterns. The same person or situation triggers their anxious behavior, time and time again.
Well-meaning mental health folk might tell you that the only way to shift out of that pattern is to go back to your childhood and understand the source trauma that first created this painful association. Truly, there could be good value in that.
In my experience, backward reflection on its own is not enough. If that’s the only way you respond to your anxiety, you might find that all that focusing on yesterday could actually prevent you from moving forward and creating a new pattern for yourself.
That’s why I like this:
An Experiment in Anxiety Reduction:
Step 1: Choose the anxiety pattern you want to work on. What is the repeated situation or behavior that you want to change, remove, bring light to?
Step 2: Decide NOW (in this moment, where the trigger is not present) how you want to enter that situation the next time it occurs. I’ve shared 7 possibilities below.
*IMPORTANT*: The greatest leverage happens when you plan for how you will approach the pattern before it occurs again. And it will occur again. That’s why it’s called a pattern. Because it repeats.
Step 3: As soon as you detect the beginnings of the pattern, implement the thing you identified in Step 2.
Step 4: Pay attention. Notice how your body and mind respond. If the technique you chose didn’t seem to have any effect, try it a couple more times. (Sometimes, it takes a while for our systems to receive the impact of the new behavior.)
Or, drop it altogether and choose another tactic. Experiment until you find the right approach for you.
- Recite a mantra.
- I am not a victim. I am powerful.
- I know what I want to say and do. I’m clear and in control.
- No one else can determine my experience. The choice is mine.
I’m not saying your anxiety will immediately vanish. (It probably won’t.) And I’m not saying that your goal in life should be to never feel anxious again. (We’re human, aka: complicated emotional types, so we probably will.)
The point here is to reduce the severity with which your anxiety catapults you outside of yourself. That’s how I relate to anxiety:
In my natural state, I’m an easygoing, calm person, sipping on a cup of ginger tea, humming 90s commercials tunes, and then, whack! the trigger appears and it (metaphorically) knocks me off my chair. So I’m scrambling around in a panic, barely able to fit a proper sentence together, completely disconnected from the clarity and strength I was feeling 5 minutes prior.
Choose in the moment BEFOREHAND (before the anxiety rushes in, before the tension mounts, before the trigger explodes), to take a deep breath, still your mind, open your heart and answer this question for yourself:
Who do I want to BE when I face this situation or this person?
You won’t always have advance notice and lots of prep time, but often, you will. You’ll hear their voice before they walk into the room. You’ll see the big group event coming up on your calendar. You’ll have time (could be days, weeks, months, or even just a few short minutes) before the tide of your anxiety starts to roll in.
So what will you do to increase the likelihood that you will move into that situation with more grace, more self-compassion, more of your true self? What will you do to acknowledge the freezing water rising up your legs, but remain certain that YOU WILL NOT DROWN THIS TIME?
Make a plan. Map it out. And if you try that and it doesn’t seem to help, what might Plan B look like? Get a backup for your backup.
No, you’re not a freak for seriously considering implementing an “anxiety reduction plan”. No, this is not ridiculous or crazy or over-the-top.
Ridiculous is believing that you’re powerless to your anxiety.
Crazy is missing out on new opportunities and relationships because you won’t open the door and walk inside.
Over-the-top is being confrontational and downright mean to people who really are just trying their best.
And knowing what to expect means you don’t have to be caught off guard next time. You don’t have to blindly stumble into words and behaviors that aren’t a sincere reflection of your powerful, brilliant self.
You get to choose who you want to be. Choose.
All my love,