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What Is Anxiety And 3 Mental Hacks To Decrease It

Annie Chen is a certified behavior analyst and a trauma breath coach. She is the founder of Behavior Roots, a service that offers 1:1 coaching and training as well as group workshops by guiding those she serves through applying therapeutic tools that can be applied in everyday life, simplified to a person's capacity and needs. Her services offer a holistic, compassionate, and trauma-informed approach to ensure long-term healing and change.

 
Executive Contributor Annie Chen

All levels of anxiety can impact our health emotionally, physically, and mentally. When we worry, ruminate, or stress, it impacts the quality of our personal life and relationships. In this article, we will review the true power of harnessing our anxiety based on current research by specifically redefining our emotions through a compassionate-led lens.

 

Young adult woman with depression sitting at home alone

What is anxiety?

 

Anxiety is a fear-based reaction stemming from a series of traumatic events or stress-related events that have occurred in a person’s life. More specifically, it is a fear of an unwanted future or an unwanted past, therefore has a lot to do with an attempt to regain control of a situation or person in the present moment situation. It is the product of a specific combination of emotions (such as shame and fear) that were not processed in the way they should have been at the time of the stressful event. As a result, anxiety becomes a form of self-protection and a coping skill.

 

How do I know I’m experiencing anxiety?

 

Anxiety can show up in our thoughts, behaviors, emotions, and bodies. See how it can show up below:

 

Thoughts:

  • Inability to make decisions

  • Repetitive worrying thoughts

  • Ruminating on a problem

  • Negativity or critical thoughts

  • Racing thoughts

Behaviors:

  • Insomnia

  • Forgetfulness 

  • Procrastinating 

  • Keeping yourself busy

  • Inability to make mistakes

Emotions:

  • Feeling on edge

  • Overwhelmed

  • Not feeling confident

  • Irritable

  • Feeling scared

Body:

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches & tension 

  • Jaw tension or TMJ

  • Chest Pain

  • Upset Stomach

*It is important to note that anxiety is not exclusive to only these symptoms

 

How do I know when I need to address anxiety?

 

If you have ever experienced any of the symptoms above at any point, it is helpful to address them right away. Just like brushing our teeth to prevent cavities, we want to take preventative measures before it gets worse. When anxiety begins impacting your ability to maintain healthy relationships, build relationships, or create a consistent decrease in life satisfaction, this is a red flag to take note of. When we delay addressing our anxiety symptoms for too long, this can lead to disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, chronic pain, and eventually even autoimmune disorders. Seek out professional help from a therapist, a behavior coach, or practice consistent self-compassion. To practice self-compassion, try these 3 easy mental hacks I recommend based on the principles of acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), a compassion-focused modality of behavior therapy.

 

3 mental hacks for anxiety

 

1. Lean in


Have you ever used a finger trap? If not, I recommend you to try it! A finger trap is a simple puzzle contraption that traps a person’s two fingers inside the woven bamboo piece when placed inside on both ends. Instinctually, we often think to get out of a finger trap we need to pull our fingers out, in which case our fingers get stuck. The trick to getting your fingers out is to lean in and push your fingers toward one another.


Similarly, with our emotions, we want to lean in instead of moving away from the emotion. Leaning in is the acceptance and willingness to acknowledge the emotion is there, but it doesn’t mean you have to like the emotion. Acknowledge it by thinking about it, writing it down, or sharing it out loud with a friend. The more we avoid the emotion by distracting ourselves (with Netflix or phone scrolling) the more we get trapped in our fear and anxiety.

 

2. Alter ego


Think of the characters Jekyll & Hyde from the 1880’s novel or Hulk from the Marvel comic series. Both characters have two alter egos. Dr. Jekyll is a kind scientist who can become Mr. Hyde, an evil villain who avoids responsibility and commits crimes. Bruce Banner is a kind doctor who can become Hulk, an uncontrollable monster driven by rage. Dr. Jekyll and Bruce both need to acknowledge and accept that both alter egos are part of their identity, and ultimately their true desire is the ability to control both identities.


Similarly, with our emotions, it is important to understand that our emotions are a part of what makes us human and they come out for a reason. They are often feedback that there is something we are neglecting in our health. However, when we get consumed by our emotions, then our emotions begin to become the driver of our thoughts and actions and we become the passenger (like Hulk’s rage or Mr. Hyde). Learn to distance yourself from your emotions by giving them an ‘alter ego’. Give it a name and make it an entity. For example, “Negative Nancy is talking again” or “Anxious Abby is at it again”. If you aren’t comfortable with trying this, you can also use the statement “My brain is telling me I’m worthless again”, and try speaking to that entity like you would to a friend in need. Practice this either in your self-talk or when talking with a safe friend or partner.

 

3. BYOD (Be Your Own Detective)


What makes a detective good at their job? Before a detective successfully solves a case, they observe, look at the clues, analyze, and approach with curiosity. We can also be a detective with our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical symptoms. Simply noticing and observing how you feel or what physical symptoms come up (even in the next 2-3 days after) when you experience anxiety can give you helpful feedback. That feedback can help you understand what necessary boundaries need to be set and provide you direction with your future choices.


Challenge and question your thoughts and emotions with curiosity: “Is that statement true?”, “Will I feel the same intensity of this emotion in 3 days?”, “What is my anxiety telling me about my needs?” or, “I notice my chest feels tight whenever I see a deadline”.

 

What does current research say about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy)?


 

For additional tips on dealing with anxiety click here for a free resource.


Read more from Annie Chen

 

Annie Chen, Behavior Therapy Coach

Annie Chen is a behavior coach and facilitator who provides therapeutic services to adults and children. She specializes in utilizing behavioral science and additional holistic methods such as compassion-based mindfulness and breathwork to address (not exclusive to) anxiety, stress, trauma, relationship conflicts, emotional regulation, and simply feeling stuck. She strongly believes that to permanently and successfully help an individual grow and heal, you need to address the root causes. Just like a plant, if the roots are not healthy, no amount of water and sunlight will help it grow and flourish.

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