How to Get “Unstuck” from Anxiety
By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | March 24, 2023
If you struggle with anxiety, you may notice that the harder you try to make it go away, the worse it becomes. If you wake up in the morning checking for signs of anxiety to determine if it will be a “good” or “bad” day, you may be caught in an “all or nothing” anxiety trap. Our brains use shortcuts to help us be efficient, but sometimes these thought patterns end up being not so helpful.
Use the strategies below to help you get “unstuck” from your anxiety:
1. Engage in Meaningful Things – even when you feel anxious
It’s a common misconception that you need to be calm before you can carry out your plans. In fact, the opposite is true! When we put too much pressure on ourselves to feel calm, we inadvertently feed the anxiety and it worsens. For example, if you wake up feeling anxious and think to yourself that you are going to have a “bad” day, staying in bed trying to make yourself not feel anxious will likely give you more time to think anxious thoughts – and probably start thinking of even more things to feel anxious about!
If you give yourself permission to feel anxious, and take action toward starting your day, you will avoid getting stuck in your anxiety.
Consider the following scenarios:
- When I wake up in the morning, I don’t notice anything in particular about my body and I continue with my day doing the things I want to.
- When I wake up in the morning, I notice that my heart appears to be beating faster than I would expect. I think “Oh no! I was worried this would happen! I feel anxious and now it’s going to be a bad day.” I feel sad, scared, nervous, discouraged, and frustrated, stay in bed longer than usual with negative ruminations and avoid the things that I wanted to do. I feel bad about myself.
- When I wake up in the morning, I notice my heart is beating faster than I would expect. I think “I feel excited, this is going to be a great day!” I feel happy, in love, and eager. I get out of bed faster than usual thinking pleasant thoughts and do the things I want to do.
What do all of these scenarios have in common? They illustrate that no matter how you interpret your internal sensations, you can still continue with your day and do all the same things. Scenario B does not have to stop you from carrying out your plans, and you don’t have to think Scenario C to carry out your plans. You can interpret your physical sensations as anxiety or not, AND you can still do all the things you want.
A physical sensation, feeling, or thought is not so powerful that it alone determines everything about your day.
2. Embrace Anxiety as a Part of Yourself
To be human is to feel. It may be surprising to you (and especially hearing this from a therapist,) but there is no such thing as having complete control over our internal processes. Our feelings, physical sensations, and thoughts are part of who we are, and unavoidable. We are familiar with what it’s like to have some control in our external environments, like the temperature of the room, what clothes we wear each day, the music we listen to at home, etc. That doesn’t mean that you should be able to control things inside of you just as easily. Luckily you don’t need to control your internal processes in order to do the things you want and live your life fully.
You can, for example, feel anxious and still choose to talk to someone new at school. You can feel shaky and still choose to give a presentation at work.
3. Self-Compassion is a Powerful Tool
When we feel anxious, the last thing we want to do are activities that make us feel anxious! Being hard on ourselves and engaging in critical, negative thoughts like “I should be better at this” or “Why can’t I just snap out of it?” will cause you to feel bad about yourself, and thus become less motivated. Try instead to say encouraging and kind things to yourself like “This is a good first step” and “I’m proud of myself for giving it a try.” Remind yourself why you are doing the challenging thing. For example, if you value relationships you can say “Having friends is important to me.” The next time you feel anxious and want to turn away from doing what you want to, challenge yourself to continue moving forward toward what is important and meaningful to you.
Redefining your anxiety as neither “good” or “bad” is a real challenge. The team at Therapy Changes is here to help you learn more about, and embrace your anxiety as a part of who you are. Together you and your San Diego Psychologist will develop techniques based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to challenge all-or-nothing thinking.
Contact Us today to learn more about how you can redirect your time and energy toward your goals and values and get “unstuck.”
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash