Got Anxiety? AHA! 3 simple strategies for handling worry
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
Are you ready for an “AHA!” moment? This is an acronym we frequently pass onto those we treat within our clinical practice to help them respond in a positive manner when they find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of worrisome thoughts:
Acknowledge & accept.
Humor your worrisome thoughts.
Active — keep moving forward with daily tasks.
ACKNOWLEDGE & ACCEPT
In a previous article, we asked you to describe the “relationship” you have with your anxiety?
The most common response made by the individuals we treat is: “I make a lot of ‘What if’ statements to myself, which causes me feel uncertain. Once I feel a sense of uncertainty, I get really anxious and assume the worst.”
Isn’t it time to change this habitual manner of thinking, and take on a new, more productive strategy? Well, here’s a “What if” for you. What if, you stopped resisting your anxious thoughts? Remember, what you RESIST … PERSISTS!
Why not simply acknowledge you are once again having another meeting with your worries?
Become an outside observer and just sit back and listen to your worries. Acknowledge they are present, and accept this uncomfortable (not threatening) feeling.
Lower the importance you place on these thoughts. After all, they offer nothing of value to you. They make you feel uncertain, and you don’t like that sense of “not knowing.”
Treat the worries as annoying, like the countless junk emails you see every day. Accept you are receiving them (once again), and move onto the important emails and tasks you need to respond to at the moment.
Remember, trying to suppress a worrisome thought will only result in helping it to stick around more than usual.
Try it out. Follow this instruction: “Do NOT think about the image of a BIG PINK ELEPHANT right now.” Humm … how did it look to you? It’s not your worries that matter — it’s how you RESPOND to them that affects your emotions.
Your reaction is real; the perceived threat is not! The problem you face is not the content of your “what if” scenarios; it’s the discomfort you experience when needing to deal with uncertain outcomes, and your tendency to take the thought seriously.
HUMOR YOUR WORRIES
It’s difficult to feel threatened by a thought that humors you. Because the content of your worrisome thoughts is important to you (which is the real problem), why not find a way to DEGRADE the content?
So, here come those worries. Yes, they are back again. However, this time you have already acknowledged and accepted their presence, as well as your feelings of anxiety.
Your “second reaction” to feeling anxious (i.e., acceptance) needs to be extended by adding some humor to the situation.
There are many ways to do this: turning worry into a song; worrying in a foreign language, or with a foreign accent; writing a worry limerick, etc.
Let’s sing a song to the tune of “Camptown Races,” about having a Panic Attack:
“Panic gonna get me when shopping at Raleys
Doo dah, doo dah
Make my heart burst through my chest
Doo dah, doo dah
My head gonna spin off and land with the cantaloupe
Doo dah, doo dah
Going crazy then I’ll die
Doo dah, doo dah,
Out of control running naked to my car
Doo dah, doo dah.”
The song is not changing the content of your worry, it’s simply modifying the format, which then changes your response by degrading the worrisome thoughts.
Keep moving, and do what needs to get done. If you choose to bring your worries along for the ride go ahead, but move forward.
All that matters is that you move away from your internal world (your thoughts), and go toward your external world — your daily responsibilities.
Don’t wait until the anxiety subsides before you begin your activity. Feeling anxious is the BEST time to move forward. It is only then when you’ll discover that your predicted catastrophic outcomes did not occur.
Your worries will not disappear as you become active; that’s OK. The point is, you can still get things done even with your worries tagging along.
You don’t need to stay stuck in a molasses of worry. As you get involved with your external world, you are dealing with the rules of reality.
Staying within your internal world keeps you hostage to a set of rules YOU constructed — rules that serve to maintain your anxiety.
Think about how you typically think about your worries. Realize it’s not helping. Now, think about the ideas discussed within this article. Observe your new “second reaction” to dealing with worrying — AHA!, it works!
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinev illage.com to learn more.