Some days, I feel like I’m the most stressed out person on the planet. It’s like the pressure from day to day life gets in and festers, making things almost impossible to deal with. I know it seems like it makes me impossible to deal with. Once you add in the realities of being surrounded by other stressed out people, it’s almost too much to deal with. Without a game plan, I can easily lose a whole day to my illogical thoughts.
While stress and anxiety aren’t exactly the same thing, they can have similar symptoms and triggers. What’s worse is that dealing with someone with anxiety can easily cause stress, and dealing with a lot of stress can easily translate into anxiety. However, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Thankfully, no matter which side of the situation you’re on, there are some easy management tips that can help limit the devastating impact. These tips alone will not fix the problems of stress and anxiety, but they can give you the clarity needed to move past them.
When dealing with the complexities of human emotion (whether your own, or the emotions of others), you’ll need to attach yourself firmly to the ground beneath you – in a literal sense – before you can fully ground yourself in the symbolic sense. Pay attention to your default standing position (you will need to actually stand up for this, since most people don’t automatically pay attention to their foot posture).
If you default to standing on the heels of your feet, this most likely means that you have a need to stand your ground. Often, the inclination to stand at the heels of your feet starts in childhood or early adolescence. While it can mean that you feel a need for physical conflict (if the situation should arise), it could also be a sign of internal conflict and the need to control the situation. Over time, it can cause stress in the calves and hamstrings, which may eventually cause back pain.
If you default to a flat-footed stance, with no obvious contact points, you’re not solidly grounded in your situation. This can be a good thing, since shifting is easier – but, because of the ease of shifting, it’s also a potentially bad thing, if you’re psychologically shifting toward the negatives and the stressors.
If you default to standing on the balls of your feet (near your toes), this is a sign of high energy – whether physical or mental. With a heel in the air, you’re ready to take off at any point in time – whether off on an anxious tangent, or off in a sprint. The foot position itself denotes a rush, and it’s very important for these people to slow down and make a more informed decision. These decisions need to be grounded in logic, not in the things your anxiety tells you.
Once you’ve identified your default position, you’ll need to start reprogramming yourself. (Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds). Start shifting your weight when standing, so that you can feel your foot hitting all three contact points, instead of the one you default to. Now that you’ve achieved the right foot position, bend your knees slightly, and focus on how you are connected to the earth beneath you. This is something you can practice any time you’re walking, running, sitting, or standing.
Over time, this will help you develop a sense of awareness over your body. Once you begin to get more comfortable with this step, start adding in other points of awareness – your breathing, your back posture, your heartbeat, and the tension in your muscles. Focusing on the automatic parts of your life and your body will help you control your reactions to the things that are out of your control, and help you diffuse any tension that lives inside.
Detach yourself from others.
One of the most difficult problems with anxiety is that it causes us to feel the emotions of others just a little too strongly. It makes sense, then, that we need to detach ourselves from them – but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Make a conscious effort to decide that the feelings of other people have nothing to do with you (or, at most, very little). Understand your personal limits, and understand your personal responsibility over a situation.
If possible, remind yourself that there are challenges and factors outside of your realm of focus that could be affecting the way these other people act toward you. Some challenges (such as poverty and addiction) can make a person’s situation even more disadvantaged, and these people may be more likely to react badly toward any negative information you have, or negative information that may involve you somehow. Do your best to remove yourself from the situation, and view it as an outsider. I find that it’s sometimes easier to first picture the other person’s side of things, and then picture yourself not being them. This allows you to see an overview, as opposed to the “me vs. you” mentality.
An inability to detach yourself from the situation at hand can cause emotional burnout, added stress, and in time can create physical health problems. Detaching comes easily for some, while others will need to practice for a long time. Don’t worry – it will get easier, you just need to hold on and keep practicing!
When in the middle of an anxiety attack, it’s often literally impossible to think logically and rationally. This is because the limbic region, which is responsible for emotional responses, takes control and leaves no electricity for the neocortex region, which is controlled by logic and intelligence. Having someone nearby to help shift the focus back to rational thought can play a tremendous role in helping you out of the deepest pit of anxious thought.
In many cases, asking basic and easy-to-answer questions can help steer their thought process back toward the logical side of things. The questions must be simple, at least in the beginning – they should ask what you had for lunch, what your job title is, what time it is, etc. At first, the answers to these questions might not be at the forefront of your mind, but they will help to distract you from your emotional response, and will encourage your neocortex to start activating and processing things for you again.
Once the other person’s questions have gotten you thinking logically, it’s usually possible to “talk yourself out of” the rest of the anxiety attack. I tend to ask myself, “Is this a real-world problem?” – and, in most cases, the answer is no. In cases where the thing making you anxious actually is a real-world problem, you’re prepared to think rationally about the solution, instead of letting your emotions control the situation for you.
Possibly the most important step in the entire process is that you need to forgive yourself for having anxiety. I know, I know – that’s easier said than done. But hear me out.
If you consistently blame yourself for your anxiety, it’s not going to make you a better person. It’s not going to help you get over your anxiety. In fact, it’s going to make things even worse, because you’ll have meta-anxiety (which is, anxiety about your anxiety). I think I’m the queen of meta-anxiety. While you do need to acknowledge the things that are due to your anxiety, and work to create a long-term solution, blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong is just going to make everything harder on you.
Instead, I like to treat my anxiety as if it were a separate person. (And, quite frankly, my Imaginary Anxiety Friend is a bitch – and I’m sure yours is, too.) Turning your anxiety into its own “person” allows you to shift the blame to the anxiety, without shifting your blame to your own brain. It allows you someone to direct your anger at when your emotional response gets too hyperactive – and then it gives you the ability to ignore “helpful suggestions” your mind offers when in the throes of an anxiety attacks.
It’s important to realize that you usually can’t forgive yourself for your anxiety in the middle of an episode – that is, not until after you’ve trained yourself to separate. Even still, it may take some gentle nudging from your loved ones to get you to shift your focus. Over time (with a lot of practice), it’ll start to become a part of your freak-out routine, and it should help you to keep your future episodes to the minimum possible disruption.