Three Simple Tools for Anxiety

Individual Therapy Sterling, VA

Anxiety is one of the most common concerns that our clients bring to our sessions. Anxiety can be a phobia of a specific thing, like spiders or closed spaces, but more often than not it is a general sense of uncertainty in the world. It is this general anxiety that is constantly telling us that we will fail, we can’t handle it, we don’t know what we’re doing, and when everyone else finds out they’ll abandon us. This constant stream of anxious thoughts becomes white noise in the background of our day and we are so accustomed to it that we become completely unaware of it’s impact on us until something tips the scales and we hit panic mode. Even then, it is often mistaken for anger, aggression and irritability.

In counseling, we work together to understand the source of the anxiety. From early childhood on, our brain is forming an understanding of the world around us, our sense of personal power in the world, and our safety in relationships. How healthy these beliefs are determines the degree of anxiety that we face on a daily basis. Your counselor is there to help you become aware of these beliefs, sometimes understand the origin, and support you in finding healthier ways to view yourself and the world around you. If this sounds challenging and like a long term investment, it’s because it often can be, depending on the degree of anxiety. It can also at times start to feel like the anxiety is worsening as you become more aware of those feelings you’ve pushed down and quieted with often unhealthy coping mechanisms. But don’t lose hope, it can get better and does when you continue to work at it.

Because this can be a longer journey, it’s important to have some tools along the way to keep you from becoming discouraged and to give you the mental energy to get through the tough times. There are 3 basic tools that I have found immensely helpful for myself and for my clients in helping them to calm their minds and become more aware.

The first tool is Breathing. When we are anxious, our danger instincts kick in. We become tense and our breathing shortens. Deep breathing exercises send a message to our brain that the danger has passed and that we can relax. One of the simplest ways to remember how to breathe is the numbers 4, 7, and 8. Try it now and notice how your body responds. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of 4. Hold your breath to the count of 7. Breathe out through your nose to the count of 8. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Notice how your body feels and become mindful of the breaths you are taking in and out, working to let your belly and chest expand when you breathe in.

The second tool is Meditation. I’m not talking about sitting cross legged and trying to not think about anything at all. That’s Ghandi level. For the rest of us, I suggest downloading an app like HeadSpace or finding some recordings or videos of 5 or 10 minute Guided Meditation. If you’re short on time you can even find a quick 1 minute meditation. These will walk you through relaxing your mind and body and usually finding a quiet space and envisioning yourself there. Again, this allows your brain to step out of the danger mode and give you a chance to relax.

The last tool is Mindfulness. This is a powerful tool that you’ll find enhances your Breathing Work and Meditation. Mindfulness is the complete opposite of Multitasking. Mindfulness means to focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You can take a mindful walk around your neighborhood, noticing all the colors, sounds, smells, and touch sensations. See if you notice anything new that you had never seen, heard, smelled, or felt there before. When you have an anxious thought pop up, acknowledge it’s presence and allow it float by in your mind, gently bringing your awareness back to the present moment. The more you practice this, especially in times where you are not overwhelmed by emotions, the more it will become second nature in the times you need it calm your anxiety.

Try these out for yourself today and let us know in the comments what you noticed. Do you want to know more about mindfulness and meditation? Pick up a book from Amazon or the library and start reading. There are even some great books to teach your children these practices!

Hannah Lindsay, MS, LCSW-C provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office. Call or email today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone with Hannah today!