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Velizar Nikiforov, M.A., LCPC
• November 14, 2016

We all need to place an importance on our own well-being and mental health. As we mentioned in our previous blog, Keep Anxiety at Bay, everyone experiences anxiety, which is completely normal. It is how we react to that anxiety that matters.

Today, Velizar Nikiforov, M.A., LCPC, suggests five additional ways to keep anxiety in check.

1. Breathe
As anxiety mounts, our central nervous system places the body on high alert, ready to escape or defend against whatever might be threatening us. The breath quickens and our muscles tense, and these physical changes make our brain more likely to focus on potential dangers. As a result, our anxiety accelerates. You can begin reversing this spiral by taking a few minutes to slow your breath and calm the body. A good set of exercises is described here:

2. Track your thoughts
When caught up in a cycle of worry, it is easy to forget that we’re frequently frightened not by what is happening right in front of us, but rather by ominous thoughts about terrible events either now or in the future. Using mindfulness exercises can give us a chance to step back and connect with the present moment. A short guided meditation exercise can create the space to observe our thoughts from what they are instead of being swept away by them. Several guided meditations are available here:

3. Check your thinking
The anxious mind is focused on protecting us from threats, so when we worry, threats are all we see. Whatever we’re thinking about, our anxious mind is likely to latch onto the worst possible outcome. We then usually accept our mind’s fortune-telling unquestioningly. Instead, take a few minutes to examine your thoughts. Ask some questions about what you’re worried about: what is the worst case scenario you’re worried about? Step back and consider: what’s the best case? What is most likely to happen, given your experience and knowledge? Worry thoughts are stubborn, so you may need to write down the answers to these questions and take a few minutes to really think through them. A tool to help with this exercise is the “What if…” form:

4. Stop feeding the anxiety
When we get caught in a whirl of worry, we begin grasping for safety. This may take the form of repeatedly looking for reassuring information—refreshing and reloading Twitter, checking the weather, staying glued to the news, asking questions of loved ones. This can provide a spell of relief, but this is fleeting. Soon we’re back for another fix of reassurance, continuing the cycle of anxiety. To break the cycle, use one of the skills above and pause long enough to notice that anxiety eventually dissipates on its own.

5. Break away
Sometimes it’s best to simply step away from anxiety. Tune in to your values and do something that nourishes them. Exercise, connect with loved ones, engage in a pleasurable activity, volunteer: all of these allow you to get back in touch with your direct experience and set aside dark ruminations.

Velizar Nikiforov, M.A., LCPC

Coordinator, Cognitive Behavioral Therapies Program

Mr. Nikiforov is a staff therapist at the Family Institute. He specializes in working with individuals experiencing problems with anxiety, worry, obsessive compulsive disorder or depression using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based treatment that research supports as the most effective approach for these issues.