When you're in the middle of an anxiety spiral, your thoughts may quickly become obsessive and exhaustive. All of a sudden, it's like you go from 0-100, and you're imagining all the terrible things that might happen.
Untangling yourself from the panic can be challenging, but here are some effective tips that can help.
Check to See if You're Experiencing Cognitive Distortions
A cognitive distortion comes from the school of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). These distortions refer to maladaptive thought patterns. We all have them, but if you experience them frequently or intensely, you may be more prone to chronic anxiety.
All-or-nothing thinking: All-or-nothing thinking sounds like assuming things are either "perfect" or "failing." There is no in-between, which can cause people to spiral out quickly.
Catastrophic thinking: Catastrophic thinking refers to believing that the worst-case scenario is doomed to happen. Someone with this cognitive distortion might also discount positive thoughts and only focus on negative information.
Overgeneralizing: Overgeneralization refers to assuming that a single event or piece of evidence indicates a full truth. For example, if someone rejected you for a date, you might believe that you will always be rejected and, therefore, never find love.
Jumping to conclusions: Jumping to conclusions means believing that a certain outcome will happen, even if you only have limited evidence. For example, your boss might not answer your email, causing you to believe that you've done something to upset them. In reality, they've just been busy and haven't had time to respond.
Control fallacies: People who struggle with control fallacies either believe they have more control over a situation than they really do or that they don't have any control over what happens in their life.
Emotional reasoning: Emotional reasoning refers to believing that your feeling dictates the actual situation. For example, if you feel insecure around a group of people, you might believe it somehow means that others must not like you.
The key isn't to totally eliminate your negative thoughts (that wouldn't be possible!). But being aware of their role and gently challenging them can help you feel better.
Label Your Anxious and Negative Thoughts
It's very easy to assume that anxious thoughts are factual thoughts. And while every thought pattern does hold a potential beacon of truth, most anxious thoughts are defined by their catastrophic nature.
The next time you feel anxious, pause. Label what's happening. I'm having an anxious thought pattern right now. I feel overwhelmed. I am having a hard time settling down.
Being objective with the situation can allow you to better identify your feelings and help you separate yourself from your negative thinking. This also reinforces an externalization effect where you maintain a sense of distance from anxiety.
Breathe for Two Minutes
We've all heard the quintessential, take a deep breath as a response to managing panic attacks or anxiety. Even though it may sound cliche, breathing really helps when it comes to your mental health.
When you're anxious, your sympathetic nervous system activates its fight-or-flight response system. This triggers stress hormones, which manifest as physical sensations of chest tightness, nausea, a racing heartbeat, and restlessness.
Breathing slows down this system and alerts the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your body that's responsible for returning to homeostasis. This can help if you're on the verge of a panic attack, but it can also help if you're simply feeling restless or distressed about a situation.
Intentionally Get Your Heart Rate Up
There's no doubt that exercise is beneficial for your physical body. But it can also help with anxious thinking.
Research shows that even just a few minutes of physical activity can help reduce anxiety and stop a negative thought spiral in its tracks. First, exercise acts as a necessary distraction. In addition, moving your body can decrease muscle tension and tense feelings.
Finally, exercise releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and GABA, both of which can reduce anxious feelings. Over the long term, physical activity can improve mood regulation and self-esteem, which also act as protective mental health factors.
Allow Yourself to Sit With the Worst-Case Scenario
Even though the idea may seem unnerving, imagining the worst can actually help you feel less anxious.
Leaning into your fear allows you to really understand the process of your anxiety. When you allow yourself to move into that downward spiral, you engage in a sense of acceptance. You start imagining how life might be if that terrible thing were to come true, and you likely tap into thoughts of resilience and strength.
The reality is that bad things can and do happen, whether you worry about them or not. Staring directly at the danger can inadvertently help you feel more empowered.
How We Help Treat Anxiety at Resurface Group
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but if your anxiety impacts your everyday functioning or causes you significant distress, it may be time to seek more support. Our team of mental health professionals can provide you with guidance, insight, and solutions.
When life feels overwhelming, it's important to practice self-compassion and engage in the right coping skills to manage those irrational thoughts.
We are here to support you and your loved ones. Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic program.