Healthy Habits to Help Manage Your Anxiety
By Justine Carino, LMHC
Everyone can relate to the feeling of anxiety. It is a normal human emotion that we all need in our lives because feelings give us information. Feelings tell us that something may be wrong, and we need to respond to whatever it is that is triggering us. Anxiety was a feeling that was crucial for our survival as a species because we needed to know when danger was present to protect ourselves. Anxiety can be extremely helpful and useful to us as times. But it becomes an issue for us if it begins to interfere with our overall functioning and has a consistent unhelpful presence in our lives. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses among Americans, and it affects about 40 million adults. If you are someone that struggles with an anxiety disorder, it is important to educate yourself on how to build habits to manage the emotion. I’ve listed a few strategies you can try out to help you cope with this distressful emotion.
Practice being present.
Anxiety is all about the fear of what could go wrong in for us in the future. So, if we are thinking about the future, we are not in fully in the present. When we have anxiety, we can get so involved in our thoughts of “what if” that we often imagine a hypothetical worst-case scenario that may never even pan out for us. We become very distressed over an imaginary situation that we created in our own minds that may never even happen. This is when you must redirect yourself to the now. You are safe right now, nothing bad is happening right now and you can only react to what is happening in the present moment. Be where you are, both mentally and physically.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to get yourself more comfortable with being present. Mindfulness is a state of being in which we actively focus our attention to the present moment and become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, without judgement. It takes us out of the state in which we project our worries into the future or look back on the past. Mindfulness practice is a muscle that you build over time, but you can get started using techniques without having any prior experience with it. You just have to start! I have a recent podcast episode talking all about how you can make mindfulness a way of living that you can listen to here.
Learn how to catch irrational or unhelpful thoughts.
Thoughts are not facts. Just because we think something might go wrong doesn’t mean it will go wrong. The way that we think about situations can lead us to have feelings of stress, panic or overwhelm. Again, we are wired to have more negative and unhelpful thoughts than positive and helpful ones because we needed to think about the worst-case scenarios to avoid danger to survive. We are programmed to prepare ourselves for the worst to be able to try and protect ourselves. Unfortunately, this type of thinking can lead us to “catastrophizing” which causes anxiety. Catastrophizing is an irrational way of thinking that causes us to believe that something is far worse than it is. It is one of ten “cognitive distortions” that we teach in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. When we practice CBT, we have our clients learn these common thinking errors, recognize when they show up in their own minds and teach them how to challenge these unhelpful or ineffective thinking patterns to create more helpful ones.
Catastrophizing is usually a result of a thinking loop that we get stuck in and start to believe will become true. It creates anxiety and fear, which then triggers our fight or flight response and turns on our anxiety. Once this system is activated in your brain, you will not be able to think of an effective solution to the problem at you are dealing with. Maybe it’s not even a real problem but you are making it one just by the way you are thinking! You can only worry about so much at one time and we are often worrying about outcomes that may never even happen. When you notice your own patterns of catastrophizing, you can challenge your own thoughts and alleviate your anxiety.
Break a sweat consistently.
Any type of exercise is good for you and your overall emotional wellness. You need to find an exercise routine that aligns with your lifestyle and what you enjoy doing in order to really commit to it. But I do have to say, working out to the point of sweating can really help you feel grounded, get your endorphins pumping and relieve anxiety. Endorphins are the feel-good hormones in our brain that activate our bodies opiate receptors, so high intensity workouts are an entire mind-body experience. Get yourself drenched in sweat to the point that you need a shower before you see anyone again in your day and really feel yourself being pushed to your limit. This type of release can be cathartic for you. Incorporate breaking a sweat into your weekly routine as both a prevention and intervention technique for your anxiety. You do it to prevent stress, but you also do it in response to stress. *Please only engage in this type of high intensity work out if it aligns with the current state your physical health.
Go to therapy.
Therapy has become so accessible due to the pandemic. Telehealth took off during our times of social distancing and it is here to stay. You have the choice of using a therapist that takes your health insurance, utilizing your out of network benefits, paying out of pocket or trying sites that list providers with a sliding scale such as Open Path Collective. Therapy can help you learn evidenced based techniques that are proven to help individuals manage anxiety. Although, it may take some time to find the right therapist for you. Shopping for a therapist that is a good fit is really important because you need to feel comfortable enough to become vulnerable with them, so they know how to best support you. Therapy is a space in which you should feel free to be completely open and have an opportunity to talk about the things that you wouldn’t want anyone else in your life knowing. Meeting with a therapist regularly can really help you take the edge off, learn techniques to manage your symptoms and help you reflect on ways you can move forward so you don’t feel as stuck.
Engage in a consistent mental wellness routine.
Creating a mental wellness routine is key to helping you manage your anxiety. You need to learn the things that you need to do every day, every week and every month that keep you at a healthy base line with your emotions. These things are personal to you and will look different from other people struggling with anxiety. Maybe you need to sleep 9 hours each night, work out three times a week and have a girl’s night once a month to feel grounded. No one can tell you what you need, this is something that you discover on your own through trial and error. Things that you incorporate into your mental wellness routine can also be very simple, such as having your morning cup of coffee in silence every morning so you can have 5 minutes to gather your thoughts for the day. If you need some help in thinking of what you can add into your wellness routine, I have created a download that you can find here to get you started. Being consistent with this type of self-care can really help you keep your anxiety at bay.
Justine Carino is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, grief, relationship issues and family conflicts. Justine also has a podcast called “Thoughts from the Couch” which can be found on Apple, Spotify, and Amazon. Justine uses both cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and family systems techniques to support her clients in making changes they want to see in themselves and their relationships. Justine is a graduate of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University and has post graduate training from the Ackerman Institute for the Family and The Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You can find Justine on Instagram @_thoughtsfromtheouch_ and her website is www.carinocounseling.com