If you suffer from anxiety, I suspect you’ll connect with this post. Although I have come so far in my recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder and am now working on coping with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) symptoms in a trauma recovery group, I naturally suffer from time to time from anxiety.
Because I have chosen to face things that I had a habit of denying and pretending didn’t happen, my body and mind have been responding. I’ve had anxiety. Why am I personally anxious? I have a number of reasons, including that the 8-week group I am in is going to end next week (at 7 weeks) because the doctors said we covered all of the material. I was triggered by having to share and record my story again this past Wednesday in the group, a friend is coping with cancer, and some other random issues. I like, everyone else, has “real life” stuff going on, and not all of it is rainbows and unicorns.
Most of us who are emotionally sensitive become concerned and dysregulated when we feel anxious, and I am no exception. The difference is in how I cope more effectively now than I have in the past.
The emotion of anxiety can be so overwhelming, frightening, and feel so urgent. We can be tricked into believing we are going crazy, losing our minds, or that we will never know what it is like to feel calm again. Of course, like any emotion, anxiety eventually subsides and we feel better again.
But, when you have BPD or are otherwise challenged with regulating your emotions and are in the thick of an anxiety attack or anxious days, it can be very hard to remember this, let alone believe it. This is why we must turn to the self-talk of our Wise Mind (a DBT – Dialectical Behavior Therapy) concept.
We must remind ourselves of certain truths that will not only calm us in the moment but that can also affect our nervous system in such a way that lessens our time of suffering in the anxious state.
Anxiety is there to protect and serve us in reality. It is a primitive, very natural response to perceived danger. The word perceived is important here, because the brain responds to danger whether it is real and in front of our faces or whether we have gotten ourselves worked up over future worries and “what-ifs?” or thinking about past times when we were hurt or victimized.
It would behoove us to befriend anxiety (yes, befriend it) when it arrives and to be curious about it’s presence, because unfortunately resisting, denying, and trying to fight anxiety, which is often the tendency since it is uncomfortable and unwanted, only make things worse. We only get more tense in our muscles and more frustrated as the anxious feelings linger rather than subside.
But we can take a different approach that helps us to stop the process in it’s tracks. Although it takes time for the physiological aspects to balance out again, we can reduce the amount of time we suffer with the emotion of anxiety. I mentioned earlier that we can start by reminding ourselves of some truths. Here are somethings we can say to ourselves when feeling very anxious:
- I am safe. This is only an anxiety attack.
- These are just thoughts. Not all thoughts are true. I don’t have to run with them.
- I notice the tension in my __________ (stomach, shoulder muscles, neck), and I know this is my body’s reaction to stress and anxiety. What can I do to help relax? (Then do those safe activities, i.e. a hot shower, a massage if possible, go for a walk, do a body tension and relaxation guided exercise from YouTube or a CD.)
- This is my body and mind having a normal reaction to protect me. If I can convince it that I am safe by breathing slowly, using self-talk, and self-soothing, I can reduce the duration of this episode.
- This is going to pass, and I can ride the wave until it does.
The calmer we can get ourselves, the sooner the anxiety will subside. I’ve learned this the hard way many times. Trying to fight and resist and getting upset while engaging thoughts like: “Oh no, not again. I can’t BELIEVE I’m having anxiety again! Why?! I hate this!” only fuels the anxiety.
Those thoughts may (and likely will) come, but we need to make the conscious choice to sit down, close our eyes, start breathing slowly, and using Wise Mind self-talk to slow things down.
This too shall truly pass. You can ride the wave of emotion and watch it reach it’s peak and then come back down again. It always does, even in those times when this is hard to remember and believe.
I hope this helped you in some way.
To Read Week 8 (there is no Week 7 post), click HERE.