Anyone that has experienced anxiety will know how awful it is when you start to panic about something and it ends up being the only thing you can focus on. Once an anxious thought creeps in, it can take you on an entire adventure of fear, dread and a slew of physical symptoms.
I like to have a handy anxiety toolbox ready for when this happens. It’s not a physical toolbox, it’s a mind toolbox of tricks and techniques that help me get through an episode of anxiety or a panic attack. One of the things I most use from my toolbox is to ask myself some important questions.
These questions help me to rationalise and challenge my anxiety to bring me back to reality. Once that happens, my physical symptoms start to fade and I feel like I can breathe again.
Here are my questions to ask yourself when you are feeling anxious.
1. What evidence do I have to support my anxiety?
Say you’re extremely anxious because you’re going out to a coffee shop and you have these intrusive thoughts that are telling you that everyone will judge you. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support this at all! You’re unlikely to find it because there isn’t any evidence of that. Don’t answer this question based on you’re feelings at the time, base it on fact.
2. What is the worst and best that could happen and what is most likely to happen?
I constantly had to answer this question in therapy but it works. Instead of focusing on just the worst scenario, you are giving yourself the opportunity to think of a more positive outcome and figuring out what the most realistic scenario to happen is.
3. Am I believing I can see into the future?
This one helps me a lot because it makes me think “well, obviously I can’t see into the future” and then I realise that the scenario in my head is just that, it’s in my head. I can’t even know if it will play out that way.
4. How have I coped with this before?
You’ve surely been in similar situations or at least been anxious about something before, where it turned out to be okay and not nearly as bad as you’d made it out to be in your head. Remember a time when you were anxious but still made it through a situation and came out feeling better for it.
5. Am I exaggerating things?
Sure, sometimes you’ll be heading into a situation where it’s definitely not going to be easy, even for the most confident person and a little bit of anxiety is justified. I find that when I photograph weddings, a bit of anxiety is necessary to make sure I do the best job I can do but getting myself worked up, into an anxious mess, only hinders my ability to do the best job I can do.
So I ask myself if I’m exaggerating things in my head and creating more anxiety than is needed. For a example, am I just anxious about getting all the group shots done in time or am I anxious that all of the guests will hate me? There is a clear difference.
6. What advice would I give a friend in the same situation?
I always find this one to be helpful because I know damn well that I wouldn’t tell my friends the same things I tell myself when I’m anxious. I couldn’t imagine saying to somebody else that everyone at a party is going to stare at them and judge them. It would be really mean and untrue. So ask yourself what advice you would give your friend. Would you tell them that their fears are reality or unfounded?
7. I feel bad but does that mean things really are bad?
Something I like to do during an episode of anxiety and something that I learnt to do in therapy, is to separate my feelings from reality. Just because I feel like everything is going to go wrong or I feel like the ugliest human in the world, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Hopefully these questions help the next time you start to feel those intrusive, anxious thoughts creeping in.
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