Anxiety is a lot like a tidal wave. It can build, gaining momentum, growing bigger and bigger until it eventually comes to a peak. The peak of the wave is a point when you are at your highest intensity of emotion and it is the most intimidating and overwhelming. Then the wave starts to crest over and it slowly starts to dissolve and dissipate, coming back down to level again. After the wave has passed, then you begin to anticipate when the next wave is coming. Repeat cycle.
Now, imagine that you are swimming straight out into the ocean water from the shore against the direction of the waves. What would happen? You would probably find that the waves would be hitting you in the face, trying to knock you down and pull you under the current. If you stood in front of the waves, holding out your arms and tried to stop them from coming, would they suddenly stop? No. If you went behind the waves and tried to push them to move along faster to go away, would they go any faster? Again, no, I don’t believe so. Unless you had some magical ability and then we would be having a different conversation.
So, we know that we cannot make the waves stop and we cannot rush them to move and go away any faster. They can not be controlled or avoided. They will come and go, ebbing and flowing. The same goes for anxiety. If we resist the symptoms of anxiety by trying to control it, stop it, avoid it or push it along quicker, the symptoms are more likely to get worse. So what do you do about the waves of anxiety? Well, you want to be more like a surfer. They are not intimidated by giant waves. In fact, to a surfer- the bigger, the better. Surfers are not trying to fight the waves, they are moving with the wave, flowing in the same direction. When you find yourself experiencing a wave of anxiety, try riding the wave.
Here are some tips on how to ride the wave of anxiety.
Accept your symptoms, don’t suppress.
Remember that anxiety and panic attacks can not kill you. You can not die from them. Attempting to control the anxiety will only intensify the emotion. Try thinking to yourself, “Ok, here is is again. I can handle this. It will pass.”
Acknowledge your physical symptoms.
Anxiety not only impacts us emotionally and cognitively, but also creates changes in our body. Take notice of what your body feels like in the moment. This may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, heaviness in the chest, muscle tension, shaking, and sweaty palms. Watch and observe what is happening to your body without reacting to it with further fear or anxiety.
Redirect Unhelpful Thinking.
Often our perceptions about our physical symptoms of anxiety lead to further symptoms of fear and panic. Examine your thoughts and beliefs about your physiological reactions. Instead of thinking “I can’t handle this” or “I feel like I am going to die” try thinking of something more helpful. For example, “I know I will be okay” or “I will let my body do its thing and move through this.”
Utilize Relaxation Techniques.
Try taking some slow deep breaths. This may be called deep breathing, belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Slow your breath and become present in the moment. Focus on your inhale and exhale. You can also try doing a visualization or mindfulness exercise to help ride the wave and wait for it to pass.
Remember to ride the wave of anxiety and it will eventually pass. You got this! Happy surfing!