A Simple Exercise to Manage Anxiety
This blog is meant to continue my previous discussion about anxiety and how we can learn to change our experience with it. Actually, the steps outlined in the two blogs can help with any overwhelm, not just one caused by anxiety. We lose our capacity to be emotionally and psychologically flexible and adaptable to life’s invariable curve balls – small or big – when we block and numb our emotions. We go from zero to 100 in a split second; we are either numb or enraged; we burst into tears for no apparent reason and want to withdraw and hide. If this sounds familiar, you can change this by developing awareness of your inner experience as well as what is going on around you. The following practice may seem long but it only takes a few moments:
- Notice what is going on around you, who is there, what is said, what you are reacting to, etc. When we engage our attention in describing something, we gain just enough distance from what is going on to not be engulfed by our experience of it.
- Practice self-compassion – a concept that is foreign to most of us. The “mommy guilt” leaves little or no room for it. You don’t have to bring yourself to the brink of exhaustion in order to feel that you are good enough and that you accomplish enough.
- Tell yourself “it’s ok to feel what I feel and think what I think at this moment.” Feelings and thoughts are just that: feelings and thoughts. They give us information about what is going on around us and what we need. They are not conclusions about who we are. Just because we sometimes feel helpless doesn’t mean that we are helpless.
- When you catch yourself saying “I am a bad mom” change it to “I feel like a bad mom.” This seems like a small change but it is a significant one because “feel” is a temporary state whereas “am” becomes a permanent trait if we repeat it often enough. It becomes a part of our identity.
- Be curious about your experiences, not judgmental or critical. With practice, you will find emotions that are acknowledged and accepted don’t linger and fester.
- Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it, or you don’t want anything to be different – it just means at the moment this is your experience and fighting against it or judging yourself for having it will neither make it go away nor make you feel better. Avoidance only brings a temporary relief.
- Start slowly. If it’s been a while, you might not even be able to name your emotions. If this is the case, describe them: if my emotion were a colour, what would it be? If it had a texture, what would it be? Temperature? Sound? Shape? Taste?
- If at any point during this practice, you start to get overwhelmed or scared by the intensity of your feelings – refocus on your breath by taking a few deep, slow breaths and continue when you can.
- Lastly, remember self compassion – you have to be at least as kind to yourself as you are to others. Ask yourself: “what would I tell someone I love going through what I’m going through?” Would you blame or judge them?
Lana Mamisashvilli is a psychotherapist who has worked in the field of perinatal mental health (pregnancy and postpartum) for more than 12 years and is passionate about helping new moms transition to motherhood. Healthy Moms cardholders receive a free 30 minute initial consultation with Lana (in person or by phone) and 25% off therapy sessions. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/lana-mamisashvili-counselling-psychotherapy