Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental health issue worldwide, affecting some 40 million adults in the U.S. alone. Many expats in Shanghai struggle with anxiety. It is perhaps unsurprising given the fast-paced lifestyle, high pressure jobs and other stressors many of us face.
However, anxiety is just a symptom. It is the tip of the iceberg, the manifestation of what is going on inside of us. It may show an emotional imbalance: overthinking and wearing out our minds and bodies with intense focus.
The anxious mind always goes to “what if”. Our minds are designed to think, we can’t stop them. However, anxiety leads to being caught in a cycle of overthinking. When learning to pause in the nanosecond between thoughts, one can choose whether to worry or not.
The foundation of anxiety is control: people want to control things in order to feel safe. It is a natural human feeling to desire a sense of control. We don’t know how to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds us every day. So, we try to control external things.
A common reaction becomes frustration: taking things personally, making assumptions, creating too many expectations and overreacting. It is normal to feel anger, frustration and sadness. But in our efforts to control we might ignore these emotions or push them down with thoughts and worry. Instead, we need to find that balance and acknowledge our emotions.
The Symptom of Anxiety: Examining Our Patterns
First, we have to understand our patterns and learn more about how they’ve been created. Many times these patterns have been helpful coping mechanisms. Often, these were rooted in family beliefs or situations faced in the past. Now, the once helpful coping mechanism has become a destructive pattern.
We start to recognize how our pattern is working. This means examining our inner judgments. Do we have to be perfect? Is there a feeling of not being enough? A need for safety? How am I feeling about myself and what am I telling myself?
Tools to Break the Cycle
Once we understand the pattern, we can begin to develop tools to change and deal with it daily. This means learning how to take that small pause to break the cycle of overthinking. And, to decide in that moment not to worry about something in the future or out of our control.
In therapy, we can also gain better balance with our emotions. By understanding ourselves and talking through these issues, we take the first step toward a new pattern.
Other tools I recommend for managing anxiety:
- Live a healthy lifestyle and keep your body and mind in balance with tools like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, reiki, sound therapy, etc.
- A helpful mindfulness practice is doing a daily self-body scan. You bring attention to each part of the body, take time to focus and relax. Here is a review and audio you can use when trying this for the first time. I teach clients various mindfulness techniques like this one. You can do a body scan every night before bed and also review your day and the emotions you are feeling. You don’t need to explain or fully understand all these emotions, just allow yourself to feel and acknowledge them.
- Use positive affirmations. One I recommend that addresses the fear of uncertainty: “If I don’t know it’s because I don’t need to know. If I need to know, it will be revealed.”
- Take moments to just “be”. We don’t always need to do. Think, simply “I am” instead of “I am busy”, “I am always working”, “I am ____”.
- Try the Calm app, which helps with meditation, sleep, breathing and relaxation.
- Enjoy fun and relaxing physical activities like yoga and dancing. Find things that help you release tension and “chill”. Knowing your patterns, you may want to avoid or tone down participation in things that feed those patterns (such as competitive sports, high pressure exercise/groups).
- Create boundaries. Learn to say no. This is one of the areas we often work on in therapy.
- Open up to yourself and others about your emotions and struggles. Your anxiety is giving you the opportunity to change and improve your life. Many others struggle with it too. Connecting more with your emotions and being vulnerable with others gives you a foundation to deal with life’s uncertainties.
If you need help to explore your patterns and create balance in order to break the cycle of anxiety, contact Body & Soul to make a consultation appointment with Bibiana. Bibiana is a holistic psychologist who combines clinical psychology, psychogenealogy (family tree therapy) and alternative techniques to help her clients live a healthier, happier life.