How to keep anxiety from calling the shots

Anxiety is one of those universal emotions - everyone gets anxious from time to time. Work, school, friendships, sports, there’s no shortage of things we can feel anxious about.

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Some anxiety is normal. Most of us find taking a test, going to a job interview, or meeting your date’s parents to be anxiety-inducing. When we’re feeling high levels of anxiety most of the time or for issues that are minor, this can be a problem and may even be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

If you notice your mind running away, here are some strategies that can help.

Notice what is going on

If you’re having trouble breathing and your heart is racing, these can be signs that your anxiety is getting into high-gear. Instead of thinking that these symptoms are signs of danger, we can think of them as signs that something has triggered our anxiety and we need to take a break.

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Wow, my heart is beating so fast. How long have I been clenching my shoulders? You know, I think I’m having an anxiety attack.

When you notice your body reacting, you can pause. Instead of getting carried away on a wave of anxiety, you can ground yourself by taking some deep breaths. You can try to move to a place you feel safer - like a quiet room - and use some of the other techniques.

How bad could it be?

Sometimes, the best way to defuse an anxiety attack is to think through the next steps. With worried thoughts popping it, it can actually feel like you’re having a conversation with anxiety. When your mind’s racing, you can keep refocusing. What would happen? And could I deal with it?

Oh no! I’m going to get a terrible score on the SAT!

Okay, what would I do if that happened?

Die!

No, seriously, what would happen?

I’d take it again. But what if I just have all bad scores?

I mean, I’d still get into college.

But the fancy college?

I wouldn’t die if I had to go to another school. Yeah, it’d suck, but I could deal. And I’d still get my degree and get a job, so I wouldn’t end up homeless. I’d be sad, but the world wouldn’t end.

How realistic is this?

Anxiety’s role is to keep us safe. Anxiety doesn’t care about how likely something is to happen. It’s just a signal that some danger is on the horizon. Putting it in check can help diffuse these overwhelming feelings.

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What if my girlfriend’s parents hate me and think I’m dumb?

Has this happened before?

Not really, I guess. Most people like me. But those people at school made fun of me in 9th grade.

Is this the same kind of situation? Do you think her parents will make fun of you?

No, that’d be kind of weird.

Yeah, it’s not likely that they’d be aggressive weirdos. It’ll probably be fine.

But what if something good happens?

Flip anxiety on its head. Yes, something bad could happen. But what if something good happens?

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What if the party sucks? What if I make a new friend and have a great time?

What if I tank the job interview? What If I do really well and they hire me?

What if I can’t remember the song? What if my performance is awesome?

Rinse and repeat

These techniques take time. The more you practice these skills, the more automatic they’ll become. We all have to start somewhere. Each time you calm yourself down, you get better at this!

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