Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Maybe you’ve been here before:
You’ve been feeling a little anxious about something lately, like a medical test you are going to need to take, or a change you are expecting to have to make in your regimen. You don’t like to feel the way you feel when you’re having all those anxious thoughts. Maybe you get a little grouchy when you’re anxious, or you have trouble concentrating, or you get a stomachache. No, you sure don’t want to feel that way.
But then you start to think about that medical test or your regimen change, or whatever it is. And as you think about it, you just know you are opening up the door to feeling anxious.
You tell yourself, “I can’t let myself get anxious about this. It will wreck my day.”
Followed by more of the same, “No, really! I can’t let myself get anxious.”
And finally, “Oh my gosh, I am going to get anxious. What will happen to me then?”
Guess what? You’re probably anxious by now. Just what you didn’t want.
Anticipating feeling anxious is a sure way to feel anxious
Let’s take a step back and look at what happened here: you got anxious. Not only about the situation that makes you anxious. But, worse yet, you got anxious that you might become anxious.
Therapists call that “getting anxious about getting anxious.” It is the anxiety that can come from worrying about feeling anxious. Most likely, the anxiety that results from all this anticipation of anxiety is that much worse. That’s where that big buildup can get you.
How do we avoid getting anxious about getting anxious? Here are some ideas:
Talk back to the “oh-my-goshing.” When you hear that voice of impending doom sounding off in your head, consider this a sign that you’re about to kick off the process of making yourself anxious. Use some self-talk to keep your perspective. Say something to yourself like, “I know you don’t like being anxious. But you’re not helping yourself by getting anxious about it. You have a choice. Choose to stop stressing about the possibility that you might feel anxious. If it happens it happens.”
Decide to stop fighting anxious feelings. Feeling anxious is part of being human. We all feel anxious at times. You can make anxiety a whole lot easier to deal with by not turning anxiety into a battle. Say something to yourself like, “If anxiety pays me a visit, it will be a reminder that I’m human after all. I won’t love it but it doesn’t have to get the best of me.”
Remind yourself, "I have survived this before." This is a great way to help you to keep your thoughts about anxiety from turning into anxiety. Say something to yourself like, “I’ve been anxious before. I always get through it. If it comes, it will also pass. And I’ll do what I can to help myself get through it. Not a big deal.” Doing this often enough will help you to stop dreading those anxious moments.
Have a sense of humor. Getting anxious about getting anxious just doesn’t make any sense. It’s one of those quirky things that humans do to get in our own way. Smiling to yourself at how silly it is can help you to gain some perspective. As well as put that urge in its place.
Distract yourself. Come on now, you must have something better to think about, right? Like weekend plans. Or what you’re cooking for dinner tonight. Anything but indulging that “oh-my-goshing” about pending anxiety.
Calm yourself down. Using some relaxation techniques can also help a lot. Try meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, taking a walk. Treat the symptoms of anxious thinking through relaxation, and your mind will follow.
Get support. Call somebody up who can listen and not judge you and talk to them about what’s going on in your anxious mind. Let them help talk you down from the ceiling before you make yourself more anxious.
And cut yourself some slack. The last thing you need to do is to judge yourself for having anxiety. Self-criticism makes you more anxious, not less. So show yourself some compassion. You’re working on not giving into thoughts that create more anxiety. Thought patterns develop over time, and it takes time to teach yourself to think differently. Be patient with yourself.
Getting anxious about getting anxious? Anxiety is part of being human, and stressing about anxiety only creates more. You can be proactive by using your anxiety coping skills not only when the anxiety hits, but before it hits. The starting place? Don’t give into the “oh-my-goshing.”
Do you sometimes get anxious about getting anxious? What helps? Share your experience and suggestions by commenting below.