We all know the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Our hearts race, our fingers sweat, and our breathing gets shallow and labored. We experience racing thoughts about a perceived threat we fear will be too much to handle. That’s because our “fight or flight” response has kicked in, resulting in sympathetic arousal and a narrowing of attention and focus on avoiding the threat. We seem to be locked in that state, unable to focus on our daily chores or longer-term goals. Below are six strategies that you can use to help relieve your everyday anxiety:
- Reevaluate the probability of the threatening event actually happening.
Anxiety makes us feel that a threat is imminent, yet most of the time what we worry most about never happens. By recording our worries—and how few actually came true—we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It’s important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.
- Use deep breathing and relaxation.
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this at first without a threat present, it can start to become automatic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.
- Become mindful of your own physical and mental reactions.
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.
- Accept fear and commit to living a life based on core values.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.
I have been involved in facilitating groups for decades. One of the tools I use for groups of adults, teens, or children are photos. I use photos as a way for folks to become familiar and used to talking and sharing in a group. As a way to indirectly share something of themselves by talking about an image/photo. As a way to begin a conversation about larger issues or deeper issues.
One set of photos I use are Rough Road/Path photos with alcohol addicts and heroin addicts in the beginning of recovery. I spread the photos out on a table and ask the group (usually 10 to 15 men) to pick out one photo that represents their journey in the week or weeks before they came into rehab. Once everyone has chosen a photo I ask them to (one at a time) hold up the photo, describe the photo and why they chose it. The descriptions and stories they tell come from them, their experiences and begin the process of revealing a bit about their lives.
Over the years I have facilitated anger management groups. I use a variety of handouts and activities to have a process oriented group interaction. One of the hand outs I use is below. I use it in 1 of 2 ways. I have folks fill it out first and then we discuss or we go through it together and discuss. We explore as a group, learning from each other.
anger disgust grumpiness rage aggravation dislike hate resentment agitation envy hostility revulsion annoyance exasperation irritation scorn bitterness ferocity jealousy spite contempt frustration loathing torment cruelty fury mean-spiritedness vengefulness destructiveness grouchiness outrage wrath
Prompting Events for Feeling Anger
Not having things turn out the way you expected.
Experiencing physical pain.
Experiencing emotional pain.
Being threatened with physical or emotional pain by someone or something.
Having an important or pleasurable activity interrupted, postponed, or stopped.
Not obtaining something you want (which another person has).
Interpretations That Prompt Feelings of Anger
Feeling that you have been treated unfairly.
Believing that things should be different.
Rigidly thinking “I’m right.”
Judging that the situation is illegitimate, wrong, or unfair.
Ruminating about the event that set off the anger in the first place, or in the past.
Experiencing the Emotion of Anger
Feeling out of control.
Feeling extremely emotional.
Feeling tightness or rigidity in your body.
Feeling your face flush or get hot.
Feeling nervous tension, anxiety or discomfort.
Feeling like you are going to explode.
Muscles tightening. .
Teeth clamping together, mouth tightening.
Crying; being unable to stop tears.
Wanting to hit, bang the wall, throw something, blow up.
Expressing and Acting on Anger
Frowning or not smiling; mean or unpleasant facial expression.
Gritting or showing your teeth in an unfriendly manner.
A red or flushed face.
Verbally attacking the cause of your anger; criticizing.
Physically attacking the cause of your anger.
Using obscenities or cursing.
U sing a loud voice, yelling, screaming, or shouting.
Complaining or bitching; talking about how lousy things are.
Clenching your hands or fists.
Making aggressive or threatening gestures.
Pounding on something, throwing things, breaking things.
Walking heavily or stomping; slamming doors, walking out.
Brooding or withdrawing from contract with others.
Aftereffects of Anger
Narrowing of attention.
Attending only to the situation making you angry.
Ruminating about the situation making you angry and not being able to think of anything else.
Remembering and ruminating about other situations that have made you angry in the past.
Imagining future situations that will make you angry.
Depersonalization, dissociative experience, numbness.
Intense shame, fear, or other negative emotions.