6 Techniques to Help Manage Anxiety and Obsessive Thinking
For anyone who struggles with anxiety or obsessive thoughts, I feel you.
I’m no stranger to either mental health struggle, and part of the reason that I am so dedicated to self-care practices is to help me prevent and manage these tendencies.
Over the years, I’ve been able to greatly reduce the occurrence of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior in my life.
I used to believe that I’d eventually be “healed” from both entirely, but I have come to believe that those predispositions will always live within me. I am dedicated to doing the work of “rewiring” and building new patterns within myself, but I think I will always have flare-ups from time to time – and that’s okay! These experiences have been great teachers to me, and continue to be.
Today, my experience of anxiety or obsessive thinking is radically different than it once was. I’ve developed skills and perspectives to help me move through the discomfort with patience, grace, and compassion.
Rather than fighting these experiences, I can let the feelings sit with me. I can relax into knowing that they are temporary and will eventually be gone. My relationship with my anxiety has shifted dramatically, and it has made it a much less scary or debilitating part of my life.
Here are a few things that I have found to be helpful for working through those times when your brain and your life feel overwhelming.
1) Put the thought aside and decide to revisit and deal with it later.
I’ve learned that in the moment, things can feel really overwhelming. My brain loves to go in circles and not come to any conclusion, creating more anxiety. But when I just decide to not decide, I give myself some space.
A decision has been made — the decision of no decision. When I come back to it later, such as the next day, I’m in a much calmer and more collected/connected space to be able to handle whatever it is, and quite often I find that it’s not overwhelming anymore.
2) Mantras and affirmations.
There are certain things that are helpful for me to remind myself about when the anxious thoughts arise. I use mantras and affirmations to tell myself what I need to hear. One biggie that I often use is “It’s okay for me to feel this way.” I used to feel a lot of shame about experiencing anxiety, and when it came up, I often felt like something was wrong with me. Today, even though I know that’s not true, sometimes those old thoughts creep back in. This affirmation helps bring me back to my current understanding and my home base of self-compassion. Even if I’m suffering, even if I would love to NOT feel this, it’s okay that I do.
Another affirmation that honestly is so helpful for me is, “I will survive this.” My anxiety likes to jump to the conclusion that my life is in danger. But if I can confidently say that I will survive, even if whatever fear that I’m feeling is real and comes true, then I am able to relax a little.
The last example I’ll share is simply, “This is temporary.” I have plenty of experience now to know that it never lasts. The anxiety eventually ends, the obsessive thoughts lose their power, and a peaceful and rational state of mind returns. Reminding myself that this won’t last forever and that I know there will be another side helps me to relax and just let it be there. Rather than fighting it and trying to make it go away, I simply surrender to it. That might sound counterintuitive, but it seriously makes the experience so much easier. I let the anxiety sit with me, and eventually, it goes away.
3) Engage with the present moment.
Even though your brain is freaking out and your body is responding by feeling fear, you are actually completely safe in the present moment. Anything you can do to connect yourself to that present moment is key.
Some methods include noticing your physical surroundings, going for a walk outside and feeling the sun or the air on your skin, spending time with friends or talking to someone on the phone... there are many ways to do this. I’ve also seen it recommended to go through each of the five senses: note something you can see, something you can hear, something you can smell, something you can touch, something you can taste.
Find one that feels right for you at that time and put your attention into it. Connect to the present moment, and recognize that you are safe. The danger is only in your head - it only exists as you create it. When you get out of your head and into the present, you feel comfort in the recognition of your current safety.
4) Go through the story.
This might be counter-intuitive, but it’s actually really effective. If you’re worrying about something, let yourself actually go through that negative story.
If what you’re afraid of actually happens, then what? And then what? And when you get to the end... can you still be okay? Yep. As you realize that the “worst thing” that could happen is not actually the worst thing, you can release your grip on the fear. You are, and you will be, okay.
It’s actually very similar to the “I will survive this” mantra. If you’re in true danger, you don’t have time to go through this exercise. But even then, you’ll probably still be okay ❤️.
No surprise here. You know how much I believe in the power of meditation. In my own life, it’s my foundational practice for building resilient mental health and preventing flare-ups.
In conjunction with building self-compassion, meditation has helped me to reframe my relationship with my thoughts and enabled me to walk through this world with the ability to ride out the waves and sit through the discomfort. Meditation reminds me that there is calm and trust waiting for me beneath the turmoil, when I am ready to surrender and come back to it.
6) Tapping (EFT).
Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is a therapeutic technique that comes from Eastern medicine techniques utilizing the body’s energy meridian points. It’s similar to acupuncture, but you can do it by yourself from the comfort of your home.
The method works because by tapping the meridian points, you are sending your body the message that you are safe and relaxed, while at the same time you are talking through what you are currently feeling and experiencing., which is said to shift the energy flow through your body. The tapping process also starts with a mantra of self-compassion, which I’m always all for.
Whether it’s just the process of speaking it out loud, or whether engaging with these energy meridians really does help the body to get out of fight or flight mode and feel safe and calm, I don’t really care. It works for me. I can’t fully explain the exact science of it, but I find it helpful and effective.
There are many other ways to manage the moments when our brains go into the overwhelming state of overdrive, but these are the top 6 things that I have found most helpful so far in my own life and in the lives of my coaching clients.
I hope they help! If you have anything you’d like to share or add to the list to benefit others, please share your experience in the comments below.