This is part two of a two-part series on managing anxiety. In part one we covered what anxiety is, what causes anxiety, and exploring how to find out if you have an anxiety disorder. If you missed part one be sure to go back and read it here to get up to speed.
How do I get rid of Anxiety?
Once anxiety becomes problematic it often gets pretty sticky. Our natural inclination of responding to anxiety by trying to avoid it can unintentionally teach us to continue feeling anxious. Often deeply ingrained habits of reacting anxiously need to be unlearned with the help of a professional.
However, from my experience anxiety typically runs much deeper than just a bad habit. I’ve found that it frequently is related to identity. Or rather, a lack of grounding in who we are.
This is where we get to the good stuff.
At any given moment there are endless lists available of potential threats: I could lose my job, a loved one could get seriously sick or hurt, a friend could stop returning my messages, and so on. Our minds usually filter out most of these potential fears from our active awareness based on the information we have from moment to moment: if there’s no evidence that anything bad is happening in a particular area right now, I’m not going to worry or respond as though there’s something wrong. If I receive new information suggesting something bad could happen, then I may become more concerned.
Out of all the things that could signal a perceived threat, how we see ourselves is a piece of evidence that we factor into account when evaluating a potential threat. When we aren’t plugged in to a secure sense of self, our lives feel a little more out of control and we use that as evidence to trigger a perceived threat and respond anxiously: I’m not sure how I’ll do on this presentation. If it goes poorly I may lose my job and that means I’m on the wrong career path. I have to make sure I do a perfect job on my presentation or else I will fail as a person.
When we feel grounded in who we are, we can use that as a piece of evidence of safety: I’m not sure how I’ll do on this presentation, but I know this job is rooted in my gifts and skill sets overall; I’ll be okay even if this presentation doesn’t go well.
When I work with clients experiencing problem anxiety, I’m typically thinking on two tracks simultaneously: Where are the areas of anxious bad habits that need to be unlearned, and where is their sense of core identity and how do I help them plug into it more often? Some clients are helped by leaning on one of these more than the other, but I think the second question is imperative to ask in order to move into a depth of healing.
If you’re noticing areas where anxiety is becoming problematic – maybe it’s disrupting your sleep, your dating life, or your work productivity – I encourage you to take a look at these two questions also. If you’re unsure where or how to plug into your core identity while approaching an issue, consider taking an inventory of times you felt most calm and grounded. Ask yourself what factors may have contributed to your ability to tap into your sense of self at that moment and see if you can experiment with applying some of them into your current context.
As a final disclaimer, I’d like to be clear that this blog post isn’t intended as professional counseling or clinical advice. If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing anxiety beyond what you can manage, please consider speaking to a professional to be evaluated.
In the mean time, I hope you enjoy this strange adventure we call life.