Coping Strategies for Managing Anxiety – Riding the Emotional Waves of Life
For many people, especially those with anxiety, life can feel like a tidal wave of emotions. At one moment, you are being lifted high into the air and in the next, the wave is pummeling you into the sand. Learning tools to help manage the waves of life and even learn how to “ride the waves” is crucial to your well-being. In therapy, we teach clients various coping skills to help regulate their emotions and reduce the impact of negative thoughts and feelings. Here are some of our favorite strategies:
Dropping the Struggle
Most people with anxiety attempt to avoid situations, places, people, thoughts, feelings and sensations in hopes of reducing their anxiety. However, this cycle of avoidance actually serves to maintain anxiety. Often, the more we struggle with anxiety, the larger it grows, and we begin to have anxiety about our anxiety. Let’s be honest – this is exhausting. So working through anxiety, is actually about no longer avoiding, fighting with anxiety, pushing it away or resisting. It’s like if you are walking through the jungle and you get caught in quicksand. Our initial urge is to fight as hard as possible to free ourselves from the quicksand, until you remember what you learned about quicksand….you have to stop moving. Stop resisting. Stop struggling. Once you are no longer fighting with the quicksand, it stops pulling you under. The same is true with anxiety.
Instead of fighting against anxiety, we want to hold it lightly, lean into it, allow it to be there – this is dropping the struggle. Once we can begin to drop this struggle, there is an opening to begin to do something different, such as behave differently, move towards the life that we want, such as connecting with others versus avoiding social situations, even if anxiety is present. Over time, when we engage in behaviors that are aligned with the life that we want, the impact of these negative thoughts, feelings, experiences, and sensations has less of a hold on us. We are no longer struggling with anxiety.
Grounding with 5 Senses:
When anxiety begins to grow, you can manage anxiety with the 5 senses coping technique that can be used anywhere. Start by noticing 5 things you can see, acknowledge 4 things you can touch, notice 3 things you can hear, acknowledge 2 things you smell, and then notice 1 thing you can taste. You may have to repeat this a few of times until anxiety is more manageable.
Dropping an Anchor
As used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), this coping strategy was developed by Dr. Russ Harris to help you manage a difficult emotional storm, regain control over your actions, and get present in the moment. Dropping anchor uses the simple acronym of ACE.
A: Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings with compassion towards yourself by paying attention on purpose. What thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions are showing up for you? Just notice and get curious.
C: Come back into your body. Do this by pressing your heels into the floor, stretching your hands over your head, rubbing your hands on your thighs, or slowly breathing with your hand on your belly.
E: Engage in what you’re doing. Try refocusing your attention on an activity that matters to you, or simply ground yourself by using “grounding with 5 senses” above.
You may have to do this a few times to regain control of your body.
With any of the above coping strategies to ride the waves of anxiety, be gentle with yourself, as new practices take time. Just if you want to build new muscles in your body, you must slowly and repetitiously work towards that. It takes time.
If you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety, please reach out to us for support. We are anxiety specialists who treat anxiety with evidenced-based practices to help you begin living a live full of vitality. We are passionate about helping our clients live well, even in the presence of pain
And remember, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn