Even as I love the autumn season, it is full of anxiety for me.
I start to mourn the ending of summer when I hear the cicadas grow louder the last two weeks of August and when I feel the crispness in the air at that time, which brings less sunlight and longer nights. Then the back-to-school craze: buying shoes, supplies, backpacks, etc. and trying to catch up on the homework we didn't do during June and July. By the time I make it to the parent-teacher conferences in early September, when I hear about all the things I'm supposed to be doing with the kids, I'm well into panic mode.
Yesterday my therapist and I talked about a few coping exercises to keep my anxiety from disabling me this time of year.
1. Pick a sound or object to be your Xanax.
My therapist looks up to the clouds. They calm her down in traffic or whenever she feels anxious. For me it's the water. I don't now if it's because I'm a Pisces (fish), but the water has always calmed me down in the same way as Xanax, and since I don't take the latter (as a recovering alcoholic, I try to stay away from sedatives), I need to rely on the former. So I just downloaded some "ocean waves" that I can listen to on my iPod when I feel that familiar knot in my stomach.
2. Repeat: "I am good enough."
My therapist reminded me this morning that even if I don't meet other people's standards or my own, I am good enough for God. And that's all that really matters. So whenever I feel the pinch of anxiety when I don't have time to call back a friend or send a response to an email or write the blog post that I said I'd write, I should remind myself that I am good enough in the eyes of God.
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3. Take it one minute at a time.
One cognitive adjustment that helps relieve anxiety is reminding myself that I don't have to think about 2:45 pm when I pick up the kids from school and how I will be able to cope with the noise and chaos when I'm feeling this way, or about the boundary issue I have with a friend--whether or not I'm strong enough to continue putting myself first in that relationship. All I have to worry about is the very second before me. If I am successful at breaking my time down that way, I usually discover that everything is fine for the moment.
4. Pay attention to your breath.
Another easy exercise to ground yourself in the moment and manage anxiety is to concentrate on your breath--and move it ever so gradually from your chest to your diaphragm--because the extra oxygen will send a message to your prefrontal cortex that every thing is just fine even though the fear center of the brain (the amygdala) doesn't think so at all.
5. Learn from it.
Anxiety doesn't have to be triggered by an event, but it certainly can motion some adjustment that you need to make in your life. My anxiety says that I am doing too much, once again. Over the summer I forgot about my fragile chemistry and attempted to work full time and take care of the kids full time until, in August, I was going on fumes. What adjustments do I need to make? Bite off less professionally and invest more energy into finding good help for the kids and housework. Because I can't do it all.
What about you? What techniques do you use when you feel anxious?
Therese J. Borchard writes the daily Beliefnet.com blog Beyond Blue. Her memoir “Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes” is just out, followed by a handsome book of therapy notes called "The Pocket Therapist" in April 2010. Subscribe to Beyond Blue here or visit her at www.ThereseBorchard.com.