Recently I made the trek to our pediatrician’s office to participate in the time-honored tradition of getting flu shots for my kiddos. Fun, right? There’s nothing I like more than holding my babies down, one after the other, while they scream and kick. Ugh…miserable! The entire drive to the office, my oldest child was making nervous grunting and groaning sounds. When we picked up my youngest, he said to her, “you’re not going to like this” (referring to where we were heading off to next). He dedicated all of his time, from when he was picked up, until the shot was administered, to anxious, negative, doom and gloom thoughts and emotions. However, something interesting happened at this year’s flu shot date with the doctor. I prepared to “restrain” my 6 year old. He resumed his natural role of kicking, screaming, and crying (again, a mother’s dream!), the needle was inserted and he stopped, then stated, “that didn’t even hurt that bad”. I was shocked! Then, my therapist side thought, “what a good illustration for anticipatory anxiety”. Imagine, if my child could have seen outside of his anxiety and fear of the upcoming shot to notice that, 1) he was picked up from school early, 2) he would likely get to do something fun with the extra time off from school post immunization, and 3) (and perhaps most importantly) he was likely going to get a treat out of this. This is what we call a “reframe” and it can be life changing. To be able to look at a situation in a way that differs from your automatic perspective (especially if your autopilot usually goes to negative) allows for relief from anxiety, as well as a general shift in mindset if practiced often enough. With time, a shift toward more positive thinking becomes more automatic, and easier to get to. Along with reframing, I’ve listed just a few strategies, below, for anxiety management that I’ve worked on with my clients over the years.
- Remember that the build up is the most challenging. If we can keep in mind that the build up is usually the worst part, it can help to motivate us to “stick it out” and not avoid the dreaded event. Avoidance is one of the worst things we can do when faced with anxiety. Each time we choose avoidance over “sticking it out”, the anxiety builds. It becomes a bigger mountain to overcome with each instance of avoidance.
- Mindfulness. Another tactic that I prescribe to my clients is mindfulness meditation. This is the practice of focusing on the present moment. Once practiced (and it does require practice, you won’t see the full benefit after one session), mindfulness can help with a slew of issues including anxiety, depression, memory and recall.
- Focus on your sense of touch. One specific strategy within mindfulness is to focus your mind on sensory experiences. I find focusing on tactile sensations particularly effective. For example, as you sit in a chair, feel the material of the chair with your fingertips. Is the fabric smooth or rough? What’s the temperature? is it cool? Is it warm? By focusing solely on something seemingly minute, this helps to readjust our perspective, while also giving us a break from our anxious, reeling brain.
- Give your anxiety a name. Maybe it’s “Karen”, maybe it’s “Lord Garmadon”. Either way (innocuous or menacing), externalizing your anxiety makes it less of a defining quality and more of an annoyance to be managed. Externalizing helps to minimize anxiety, give it a shot!
- Talk through the anxiety. This doesn’t have to necessarily happen with anyone else present, but it’s best to speak the anxiety out loud. Ask yourself, what’s the worse case that I’m envisioning, how likely is it that this will actually happen, what will my contingency plan be if it’s not going well? The act of speaking it aloud takes away the power. Remember mentionable is manageable.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”