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Self-Improvement Column: How to manage anxiety

Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. Photo provided by Jeff Hartwig.

By Jeff Hartwig MA, PPS, LPCC  
Self-Improvement Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider 

If you have experienced increased anxiety during these uncertain times, recognize that you are not alone. There have been numerous factors for this virtual pressure cooker of emotions spanning the last couple of years.

Not only were we socially isolated, but some of us lost loved ones. Others entered the world of homeschooling and/or working from home. Some suffered the loss of employment. Many people sadly experienced news overload and additional strain from divided opinions among family and friends. Pair these factors with possible financial challenges and it’s no wonder folks have been stressed.

If you identify with any of these life events, don’t despair. There is hope! You can’t always control the external factors, but you can adjust your mental outlook. Implementing the following coping skills will put you on a path for a great start to a new and healthy mindset:

Identify the knowns vs. unknowns
Many individuals reel with anxiousness over thoughts about future uncertainty. This is what I call the “unknowns.” Anxiety begins with our thought process, when we have a thought that is a “known” such as, “I need to get gas today, so I can be on time tomorrow.” This sequence of events is pretty much all “knowns” and is not likely to produce any anxiety.

When we think “I hope the mechanic has completed the repairs on my car. I need it to get to work. I must verify that the products came in.” This is an “unknown” and can lead us into anxiety because we do not know the outcome. If we overthink too many “unknowns,” it may very well lead us into a state of anxiety from which we can struggle. So, let’s strive for awareness regarding our “knowns vs unknowns.”

Recognize that thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors
Anxiety can be a jump start to action, but for some, it can also become debilitating. We all have experienced anxiety due to certain events in our lives; a job interview, that first date, or an important presentation at school or the office. The anxiety associated with the afore-mentioned scenarios can be overcome with one’s understanding that “I’ve done my best, I’ve prepared” etc. Understanding that“thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors” is one of the insights that bring clarity to how anxiety begins.

Minimize overthinking
Our mind can only think or process one thought at a time. This may sound confusing to individuals who identify with frequently “having a million things on their minds.” In actuality, what is happening is that one will think of A then B then L, then bounce back to B then Z, and on and on.

Since this overthinking process does not allow for an actual conclusion, many thoughts get tossed in the “unknown” bin, and then these unknowns get recycled and anxiety begins to build.

Utilize journaling to gain perspective
Many clients benefit from journaling as a helpful coping tool. Consider putting your thoughts on paper. As you write them, they are subjective or of a personal perspective as you recall the thoughts, situations, or interactions. When you review your journal the next day, they can now become objective as you can now look back at what you wrote and process these same situations or interactions and discern out what you have learned.

Review progress
As I work with individuals utilizing executive coaching as well as clinical therapy, the review process is one of the strategies we learn to implement. We journal and answer the question “What did I learn?” We discover how to decrease the self-deprecating mindset of “I should have” or “I could have” when reading the past journal entries.

Under most circumstances, anxiety can be managed by prayer, meditation, exercise, getting outside in the sunshine, or calling a friend. When life gets tough, however, these additional tools may provide relief. As always, be sure to seek professional therapy if your symptoms persist or become unmanageable.

Jeff Hartwig is a licensed clinical therapist and founder of 1 Focus Counseling in Canyon Lake. The information in this article is for informational purposes and not clinical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for clinical advice. If you or someone you know is in crisis or in danger of harming self or others, call 911.

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