We’ve all been there. You’re lying in bed at night, trying to fall asleep. Then you start thinking about that big meeting you have tomorrow. You toss and turn. Then you remember that weird email you got from your coworker earlier. All of a sudden, it’s 1:00 a.m. and now you really can’t fall asleep.
Everyone has anxious feelings, and whether or not you actually suffer from diagnosed anxiety, chances are, you’ll recognize the symptoms. “The signs of anxiety tend to fall into four categories—cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral,” says Alice Boyes, PhD and author of The Anxiety Toolkit. “You might experience an increased heart rate, difficulty sleeping, sensitivity to pain, jumping to the worst possible conclusion, finding yourself thinking about things that haven’t gone the way you wanted them to, and wondering if other people like you.” Ugh.
For example, if you have a bunch of deadlines at work, is that stressful feeling staying with you all day? Does it keep you up at night, or several nights in a row? That’s where it might be crossing over into anxiety territory, she says.
“Anxiety disorders mean you’re impaired by your stress,” explains Dr. Boyes, and if you’re feeling like you’re having trouble coping, the best thing you can do is see an expert about it. But even if you don’t think it’s that serious, there are other, little things you can do to battle creeping anxious feelings.
Here are Dr. Boyes’ three tips for coping with anxiety, and feeling calmer immediately.
1. Less is more. Do you have a lucky bracelet or shirt that you always wear when you’re feeling anxious for the day ahead? Well, it might be a good idea to stop.
“A lot of the things people do to alleviate anxiety actually create more anxiety,” Dr. Boyes says. “They’re traps.” Instead, she suggests that you act like it’s any other day. By pretending you’re relaxed, your thoughts and feelings will start to catch up with your actions, she says.
2. Try considering the best, worst, and most likely outcomes of a situation. How many times do you catch yourself thinking only of the worst possible outcome of a situation? Yeah, we thought so.
“The evolutional purpose of anxiety was for us to be on the lookout for danger. When we’re wound up, thinking about what could go wrong helps you prepare,” Dr. Boyes says. But you should also think about the potential for positive outcomes (and yes, there are always a few). That helps you think a little more clearly, explains Dr. Boyes.
3. Cut yourself some slack. Maybe a conversation didn’t go as planned and you’re berating yourself and asking, Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I foresee that? Dr. Boyes says to take a minute and “give yourself some compassion.” It’s more effective to think about how you might handle a future situation differently than to replay the current scenario over and over. And hey, it also happens to be kinder to your self. —Molly Gallagher
(Photos: splitshire.com; amazon.com)