Anxiety takes many forms including guilt, envy, jealousy, shame and fundamentally any kind of worry. The problem with anxiety is that once is starts it is very difficult to stop. In fact, once we recognize that we are being tortured, we often start to torture ourselves with this awareness as well. The ramifications are very far-reaching, ranging from physical (high blood pressure and other cardiac complications) to psychological (obsessive worrying, constant fear and the desire to complain.) When we are in the midst of high anxiety, what are some of the things we can do or practice to address this problem head on?
1. Fix your attention: Part of the cause of the torture is that the mental chaos causes your attention to lose its stability. When attention loses its stability, it causes mental pain. If you find yourself in the midst of high anxiety, find an object in your environment and focus on it for 30 seconds or longer if you can. The more specific you are, the easier it may be to hold your attention on that spot. For example, rather than focusing on the television, focus on the midpoint on the right side of the screen. You can choose any object in the environment including bottled water, electric sockets or even your watch strap.
2. Take a music break: Anxiety is partly caused by your attention also being consumed by your brain’s fear detector. If you take a music break, this takes your attention to something pleasurable and off of the fear-at least for a short while. You may even make a “mind-torture playlist” so that you are guaranteed that your attention will be grabbed by the songs that you really like.
3. Play the “what if” game: Studies show that future optimism can displace fear as the major emotional player in the brain. Even if life is far from perfect, you can train yourself to play the “what if” game for five minutes a day. You may even start your day like this. The “what if” game goes like this: Ask yourself: What if my life were to have one better thing in it? What would this be? You can then increase this to “two better things” and “three” and so on. This will cause your brain to search for something different from the torture that it is fixated on. Also, his will help you understand what is really important to you.
4. Indulge your senses: Distraction can be more than mental. If you are looking to escape your anxiety, why not schedule a massage, manicure or pedicure? Touch and aesthetic satisfaction can both replace the internal torture that your brain has decided to unleash on you.
5. Get a hug: Did you know that hugging increases oxytocin and decreases the activation of the fear center in the brain? If you know someone you trust who will hug you, enter the hug. (Asking for a hug is less effective than entering one and giving and receiving the hugging energy.) Make sure that you choose someone who is not averse to touching or hugging, or else you will just worsen the way you feel.
6. Play the “volume” game: Anxiety can be either soft or loud in you head. Play the “volume” game by trying to turn the volume up or down in your head. Once you learn to do this, keep the volume down for at least a minute as a start. This deliberate attention to thought volume will help you learn how to turn your mind volume down and will also help you feel more in control of the torture that you assume has to be at the same volume all of the time.
7. Replace the words with images: Often, it is difficult to transform your anxiety to more positive words. But studies show that images have a more powerful effect on the mind than words. When in the midst of anxiety, close your eyes and imagine an image that you really like. (This will likely be more effective than looking at such an image but the latter can also be helpful.) Whether it is the thrill of a busy downtown area or waves crashing on the shore, imagining these calming images will provide some form of temporary relief.
While meditation, understanding of worry and a deeper understanding of the nature of the mind will have longer lasting effects, the above emergency interventions may be useful strategies when you simply have to do something to stop the anxiety.