Anxiety can be confusing to understand and sometimes even more confusing to predict. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on understanding your symptoms and how to cope with them, you will notice that they always seems to find a way to come popping back up. Often times, it can seem as though doubt, worry, fear, physical pain, or restlessness have arrived and you can’t connect these thoughts or feelings to any specific trigger or stress.
Unfortunately, symptoms always have a reason for popping back into our lives and learning to understand ourselves, our bodies, and our thoughts are truly the best ways to get a handle on our symptoms and start to play offense rather than defense in coping with them.
Why it’s important to understand your triggers
Knowing your triggers and how they affect you and your symptoms is the key to truly get ahead of them. If you know what can lead to increased anxiety or even just bring symptoms to the surface, allows for you to create a plan to best cope with them and decrease the time and severity they will affect you.
#1 - Have a game plan
Now I’m going to tell you how to reduce your symptoms of anxiety and potentially prevent them from popping back up all together. I have to start by saying that what I’m going to ask you to do, will be something you initially might not want to do.
I get it.
I get that taking the time to get ahead of your anxious thoughts and feelings takes work. It can feel annoying to want to put your attention on uncomfortable thoughts and feelings intentionally when you are feeling positive and don’t have any unwanted thoughts present.
But let me tell you…it will be worth it, so stick with me.
Having a game plan is all about understanding your thoughts and feelings as they relate to the anxiety that you experience. Start to think about and write down what causes anxiety for you.
Writing down all of your symptoms of anxiety and what can cause them might seem like a lot of work, or potentially put you in a headspace that you’d like to avoid but let me tell you that by taking this step and taking the time to do this is where you will be able to work on alleviating the symptoms as you experience them and potentially preventing them all together, and that’s the goal.
Beginning this process can be simple. I’d encourage you to think about your thoughts, feelings, and how your body feels.
Staying in-tune with the reactions that we’d like more control over is a way to create a plan to cope rather than react and feel badly for the choice or behavior we engaged in while trying to protect ourselves and get through a difficult moment.
Begin to notice when your body feels more pain or tightness. Your body can truly be a guide to listen to and understand when you might need to slow down and take care of it. Often times when we are going 100 mph in our personal and professional lives, our body is keeping track of the stress we are trying to deflect or avoid. Our bodies hold onto the stress despite us trying to avoid or deny it exists.
It is important to connect each trigger to the thoughts and feelings that you experience alongside of them. Go back to each moment and think about what you were thinking when you felt the anxiety building up in your body. Think about what you were thinking when it hit its peak. What thoughts did you have?
Recognizing your thoughts is the key component for this step, as this is where you’ll start your game plan and start lowering or even eliminating your symptoms all together.
Creating a game plan can simple and I've created a worksheet to guide you through this process.
If this work is too difficult for you, that is ok. It is hard work to do. I’d encourage you to consider connecting with a therapist, as they can assist and guide you in this process.
#2 - Put Your Game Plan into Action: Communicating what you need and who you need support from
Talking about symptoms of anxiety is often avoided because it can be tough to talk about. It can be embarrassing to share that you don’t feel comfortable or confident in certain situations. Sometimes sharing your symptoms might make you feel inadequate or not competent. But let me tell you - YOU ARE NOT YOUR SYMPTOMS!!
Anxiety affects thoughts and feelings, but your symptoms are not YOU and not a description of your character.
Communicating when you might need support is an important step to help others understand you and your needs. Communicating your needs and how others can support you can also decrease the symptoms you experience because you’ll have a plan in place for when things feel out of control.
Do you feel overwhelmed thinking about the holidays this year or what 2021 is going to look like?
In your head, you might feel consumed with worry about what a gathering might look like this holiday season or what not gathering together for the holidays will do for you and your mental health. Anxiety might be showing up in nagging worries that are uncomfortable speaking up about and continue to make you feel uneasy when talking about plans for celebrating. Or maybe your anxiety is a quite the opposite and you feel an urgency to share exactly what you're thinking and feeling regarding the holidays or what is to come this year and it is leading to arguments or frustrations with friends and family members.
Maybe your feelings of sadness, or guilt, or shame for wanting to keep your holidays small this year is leading to overthinking or spirals of worry about what others might be thinking about your decision. So take a moment for yourself right now and just think...think about what is really driving your anxious thoughts.
Now that you’ve recognized the situations that can spike your feelings of anxiety, take some time to prep and talk to the people you’ll be with in the future that can be of help. Taking the time to explain to your partner, a close friend, or your mom, or sister, what your thoughts are saying in your head and how it's making you feel. Share with them any fear you're experiencing, hesitations you have, or thoughts you just can't seem to shake.
All of our fears are real, and it is OK to have these fears. However, we don’t have to let them be in charge of our happiness or ability to enjoy all that we are a part of. Talking about our anxious thoughts helps others to understand and be of support rather than keeping it in and just trying to “deal” with anxiety provoking situations.
Think about what you might need to feel less anxious and more engaged in the situations or events that you’ve identified.
A plan for communicating the support could be asking for help from someone to be in charge of holding one of your little one’s hands when both are out of the stroller while you’re walking into the park. Or if you need relief with a plan in place before you go, speak up and share your thoughts with your bestie. Let them know what worries you and what specifically you’d like some help with as you set the date. I’m sure that they will be more than happy to lend a hand.
Not only will having this plan communicated ahead of time help you in feeling more in-control, but it will also allow whoever you’re with to better understand the situations that create anxiety for you and allows them to be part of the solution. Friends and family want to be supportive; however, they often feel helpless due to not knowing how or what would be most helpful.
Let those you trust know what your worries are and specifically what you’d like them to do or not do, or how they can help ease your anxiety.
It's not always easy speaking up and asking for help but one thing I know for sure is that when you do- you're not only helping yourself but you're also allowing your friend or family member to give you a gift they want to share.
#3 - Stay healthy when you’re not experiencing stress and symptoms
Staying healthy isn’t just for your fitness goals; staying healthy is important to maintain your emotional and mental wellness goals as well.
Staying active, can prevent symptoms of anxiety from settling in. Maintaining physical and emotional wellness allows you to strengthen your ability to withstand discomfort caused by stress, allowing you to not sweat the small stuff.
Incorporating any type of movement into your day is key in staying on the offense to manage your symptoms of anxiety and prevent them from creeping back in on you. The endorphins that are released during a workout assist in elevating your mood which has long term benefits to keep your feelings of anxiety lower than they typically would be.
Taking time to dance with my little ones, is always my favorite (we jam out to the Trolls Soundtrack) which puts us all in a positive mood and connects us to happy feelings. Just the same, going for a daily walk or getting out to explore a new path or fitness video on YouTube are great and easy ways to stay active as well.
Tell yourself that staying active isn’t to just look good, but to be your happiest self and be the strongest version of YOU.
As you begin to feel the strongest version of yourself your friends and family will take notice. Your relationships will become stronger, healthier, and happier and the strength you achieve will become a model for your kiddos.
It’s also important to pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies. Talking with your doctor, a dietitian, or a nurse practitioner can provide you with valuable information and direction to help with this. Medical practitioners understand which foods, supplements, and vitamins would be helpful for you and your body to avoid or incorporate into your diet, to alleviate the symptoms you might be experiencing.
YOU can do it!
If you want to enjoy all that you are a part of, taking care of your mental health and emotional wellness has to be your priority. The choices we make to live a happy and healthy life has to be done intentionally. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Stay consistent and stay the course.
Support is always available. If you feel stuck on your own or don’t know where to begin to start the process, reach out to a therapist in your neighborhood if you need help along the way.
Kelly Jacobson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of Stronger Therapeutic Counseling Services, Inc. in Batavia, Illinois. Kelly's modern approach to therapy includes offering consistent tips and tangible tools that can be easily be practiced.
For more information about counseling services with Kelly, visit the Stronger Therapeutic Counseling Services website.
"When we are living and caring for everyone else but ourselves, we often think that we can just grind through it and things will get better soon. Living life just going through the motions and hoping that things will improve on their own can take a toll on our mental health, and truly doesn’t guarantee happiness now. Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, worried, and stressed can drain the joy we have left for ourselves at the end of the day." - Kelly Jacobson