Anxiety shows up out of the blue and can have a known or unknown trigger. We want to stop the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that come with anxiety. We try all kinds of strategies and techniques to help, but the racing thoughts, tension, irritability, and all of the things you experience with anxiety seem to come back with the same intensity. What if there was another way? What if you rode the anxiety wave? Totally rad, right? Maybe not yet, but let’s look at this some more.
What do I mean by an Anxiety Wave? Anxiety builds in intensity, whether it feels like it is stacking one thing on top of the next, a balloon getting larger, or adding more fuel to an already large fire. An anxiety wave can happen to anyone whether experiencing Generalized Anxiety, OCD, Panic, Phobia, or something else altogether. Much like ocean waves, the anxiety wave builds and builds, peaks, then crashes down. Then, a brief moment of calm until the next wave is coming in, with the same, more, or less intensity.
Let’s put on our physiological lenses and look at anxiety. When we experience anxiety, we are setting off our sympathetic nervous system aka fight-flight-freeze-fawn response, putting ourselves into a heightened state of alertness. Our brain perceives anxiety as a threat/danger and triggers our bodies to react. Our bodies are flooded with chemicals like adrenaline. This is when we may feel some physical symptoms like our heart rate increases, shortness of breath, muscle tension, headache, grinding teeth, restlessness, cold hands or feet, and irritability. After, we may feel fatigued and exhausted, cause it sure uses up a lot of energy to be in a heightened state. You try to fix your anxiety and its reaction but just seems to never work. You try to implement strategies you learned in previous therapy appointments, self-help books, podcasts, or friends. There is just something missing and we need to respond differently…
Here are 6 things that can help:
1. Control: Do not control your anxiety. Anxiety is like a bull who drank too much coffee and has been working out for years (think of when your anxiety started), that is what you are trying to “wrestle” against. It is strong, and it is scary to relinquish control, so far, trying to take control of the anxiety bull has not been successful. By doing this, we will start to ride the wave.
2. Physical Symptoms: Bring awareness and acceptance to what you are experiencing when it comes to bodily sensations and physical symptoms. This helps slow things down a bit.
3. Thoughts: Just like with physical symptoms, bring awareness and acceptance to what thoughts you are having. This helps slow things down a bit. This is interchangeable with physical symptoms, by that I mean, you may bring awareness to your thoughts first and then physical symptoms.
Acknowledge that you may not be able to do 1-3 right away, if you even do part of one of the 1-3, that is a win! This is something new and takes time to strengthen a skill.
4. Breathing: Practice diaphragmatic breathing (aka belly breathing) when you are calm, and not feeling anxious. This breathing technique helps your body in reducing your blood pressure and heart rate along with improving relaxation. When we are feeling stressed or anxious, our breathing changes, and it comes back to our brains perceiving we are being called to action. See my video here to follow a guided practice in this technique!
When we have this tool mastered, it becomes easier to use when we need it the most, like during anxious moments. It will not work if you only use it when you are anxious, it needs continuous practice. Practicing this is just like other things you have had to practice in life, from studying to taking to test, to practicing a sport to playing in a game, even baking and cooking to serve dishes to others (I know I needed lots of practice here to make things edible!).
5. Ride the Wave: Here it is… This might be the most challenging. Anxiety is already happening, do not push your anxiety to the side, it will still be there, much like if we are trying to duck ocean waves, when we come up, the waves are still there. When we ride this wave, we are creating an acceptance of the anxious thoughts that we are experiencing. We are not trying to control it but experience it. This means you are going with the wave, not against it. Do not place a time on riding the wave, that can increase the anxiety you are feeling.
6. Reflection: Finally when you rode the wave to shore, you did it! Was it easy? No, you chose to face this challenge and go with it instead of avoiding it. It will still be challenging the next time you go to ride the wave, even on the tenth time, you are rewiring your brain and taking back your fight-flight-freeze-fawn response. I am so proud of you, you deserve to experience freedom from your intrusive thoughts, negative thinking, and anxiety.
Sometimes support is needed to ride the wave, and I am here to help!
Contact me to find out how I can help you.
If you are not sure if you are feeling stress or anxiety, check back to another post on Stress, Anxiety, OCD Getting the Best of You?
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.