5 Tips for Living with Anxiety: part two
In the first part I talked about the importance of knowing yourself so you could Recognize What’s Happening The second part of discovering tips to live with anxiety is to Learn Your Triggers - or What pushes your buttons?. When you know what causes you to be stressed and anxious you can begin to create habits and routines that help you avoid even getting stressed in the first place. Begin by keeping track of the times that you feel those feelings of anxiety. Maybe you write them down in a journal or use an app, but keep a log of the when and where you found yourself stressed - the more context the better. After you have amassed a bit of a list you can then look and see if you can find a common thread between all the times you have been stressed. Maybe you always feel nervous when you are in a crowd, or when you have to speak in front of people, or every time you see a cat. With some luck and careful deductive skills (you go Sherlock!), you might be Abel to tease out at least some common factors. Once you figure that out, just avoid that thing…maybe…if that makes sense in your life.
How do triggers cause anxiety?
They just do. But seriously, the biological machinations behind the process is a bit beyond the scope of this blog, however I shall provide a brief summary of sorts. What happens to us when we experience negative situations? We tend to remember those much more strongly and vividly than other experiences, right? Like touching the stove, you don’t remember the hundred times you touched the cold stove, but the ONE TIME you touched the hot stove, oh man do you remember that. This kind of negative experience tends to make a much bigger impression in your mind because it deals with your safety, nay, your very survival! Ok, that was a bit dramatic, but you get the picture. The more we find ourselves in situations that could be bad for us - even if the probability of that is very small - we tend to remember that more. A nifty threat-avoidance system our brain is running all the time. While that system can help us avoid the angry-cat-threat, when running too long it can have us jumping at shadows. So how do we tell this unhealthy system to stand down and stop alerting us at shadows and only when the angry cat shows back up? Let’s read on.
Can triggers go away?
Sort of. In the same kind of way that we acquire triggers (a particularly strong and negative experience or fear of consequences or something) we can also use that process to undo our mental connections between events and unpleasant responses. One of those methods is exposure therapy. In this process you are gradually introduced to the things that you fear or cause anxiety in a safe manner- this is mostly used for phobias with like snakes or spiders or something controllable like that, maybe even public speaking. This kind of continual exposure in a safe environment can help to desensitize you to the negative experiences you had before. Another method is to examine the thought patterns you have around the specific thing/event and try to understand why it bothers you and then unpack if that response is appropriate when you recognize the thing you are afraid of is really unlikely or improbable. It is worth noting though that the specific method used will depend on you, your therapist, and the specific trigger of your anxiety. But the good news is that you can learn ways to minimize your responses to the triggers you can’t avoid and that will hopefully lessen your anxiety overall.
Next time we will explore some specific coping mechanisms and ways to utilize those in moments of distress.