Anxiety can be difficult to understand and even harder to manage. Former therapist and personal coach Mollie Birney gets it.
In a recent post on Instagram, she shared a crucial skill for managing anxiety she says is often overlooked by therapists.
According to Birney, we must address two separate aspects of anxiety in order to manage it effectively.
1. Our feelings
Somatic anxiety is the physical manifestations of anxiety that show up in the body, such as an upset stomach, chest pain, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, sweating, etc. Birney refers to this as the emotional experience of anxiety, meaning the feelings our anxiety causes us to feel.
2. Our thoughts
This is the cognitive component of anxiety, which leads us to contemplate future scenarios and what-ifs, marching us straight into negativity. Cognitive anxiety may manifest as fear, unease, difficulty concentrating, and/or panic attacks.
The Two Part Trick For Managing Anxiety Your Therapist Probably Won’t Tell You
While Birney says it is crucial to make room for our anxious feelings, it’s even more crucial to question those thoughts that our anxiety creates.
When it comes to anxiety, our feelings can develop in many different ways, such depression, chronic illness, and difficulty sleeping. These emotions can be hard to sort through, and the common advice to make room for anxiety may not always be helpful.
Birney suggests taking a different approach.
“We’re told to lean into, sit with, make room for our anxiety. Fine, yes, do that with the feeling of anxiety,” she says, “but you get to be suspicious of the thoughts your brain spits out as a result of those feelings.”
In essence, Birney encourages us to normalize the emotions generated by anxiety, since they can lead us to understand both its true purpose and its lessons, while not giving in to unnecessary worrying.
According to PsychCentral, “If we were to experience no anxiety at all, we’d be missing out on important cues from our minds and bodies about danger, discomfort, or uncertainty.”
Incorporating mindfulness practices, such as mindful meditation, allows us to sit in our anxiety, which can help us learn how to not be consumed by the feeling of anxiety. Journaling can also help you better understand the root cause of your anxiety. After all, if you can’t understand the problem, how are you meant to come to a solution?
Writing questions such as, “What has been making me feel anxious lately?” may lead you to discover what is causing your anxiety and how to address it.
As Birney puts it, “Our feelings are the sensations in the body, the waves of energetic emotional material that move through us. Feelings give us somewhere to go and will ultimately teach us something new.”
“Our thoughts are our interpretations of our feelings — they’re our attempt to make sense (and feel control over) our feelings,” she continues. “Thoughts give us somewhere to stay and will only reinforce what we (think we) know.”
Through these thoughts, we create our negative downward spiral, which can trap us into believing nothing is okay.
Global CEO coach Sabina Nawaz notes that the most common thoughts that trap us include:
If you are struggling with anxious thoughts, you may be wondering what you can do to stop them.
The National Health Service (NHS) advises us keep a thought record, which can be a helpful way to look out for negative thinking. When you begin to think negative thoughts, examine the thought and ask yourself, “How likely is that outcome to occur?”
After, reframe the thought into something positive, such as, “I am prepared and I will do my best.”
By reevaluating what our anxiety is and is not, we can develop better and more efficient ways of dealing with it.
Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career and family topics.