Letting Go of Anxiety
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., (www.tinatessina.com) is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction" (New Page 2003)""How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free" (New Page 2002) "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again" (Wiley 2002) and "The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs" (New Page 2001) She publishes the “Happiness Tips from Tina” e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at www.CouplesCompany.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Institute expert and “Psychology Smarts” columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.
These days, it seems that there’s one disaster after another. Not only do we have do deal with an angry Mother Nature, but all sorts of fanatics and psychopaths are on the news every night. Add this to normal life issues, illness, financial stress and family troubles, and the triggers for anxiety abound. We are all in a time of high stress, and news events as well as personal life problems often bring up fear. If these fears are not dealt with, they can lead to ìacting outî behavior, such as drinking too much or creating problems in your relationship, your job or about moneyproblems as a distraction.
What we used to call worry, and have updated to anxiety, is a continuous stream of negativity that keeps interrupting your mode of thought and that you find it hard to get away from. It's usually not focused on any one thing, but jumps from negative thought to negative thought. Worry drains and wastes your energy and makes you less likely to make good decisions. If you take that same energy you're using running around in mental circles, and do something productive with it, it'll serve you better.
Often in my own life, I use a zen concept of beginner's mind in the context of starting over. That is, to approach a new or difficult experience without expectations, willing to learn new things, willing to not be an expert, but to feel uncomfortable and incompetent, and to enjoy the experience of being a learner. This leaves one open to better experiences than would be otherwise possible.
Letting go, in the sense of trying not to control things makes every situation easier to handle. Another word for it is acceptance. In the long run, we gain more control by letting go. Rather than fight what's going on, and try to deny bad things that happen use your beginner's mind to face it, do what you can, and learn from it.
Letting go in the sense of acceptance is an internal, private process. You don’t need to let anyone else know you’re doing it. Take charge of your negative thoughts (that's one thing totally in your control) and turn them around -- argue with them, fight them off, wrestle with them. Put energy into it. What you need to let go of is the things outside that you can't control. Other people, life's events, loss, disappointment. Stop trying to change what won’t change, accept what is, let it be and live life as it is. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done, but once you get a handle on it, life itself is easier. Fretting about what you can’t control is an endless, useless waste of energy you can use elsewhere.
If you’re doing a lot of negative thinking, do a reality check. Are the stories in your head about what actually happened, or about what you imagine happened? Instead of pretending, worrying, being in the past or the future, focus on what's real. Don't waste time and energy trying to figure out what someone else is thinking, especially what they were thinking about you. You won't get it right anyway. Tell the truth to yourself, the whole truth, not just the negative parts.
When you face the reality, you must feel your feelings. Denying the truth is a way to avoid your feelings. When you just let it be, accept it, the feelings will come up, and they will heal you.
Late Night worry: Get out of the habit of using your brain as a memo pad. The best sleep aid I know is a pencil and paper by your bed to write down whatever is bugging you. If you're worried about forgetting something, write it down. If you're anxious about something you have to do, organize it with a written plan or checklist.
“What if” Worry. Fretting about what might happen? Figure out what you would do in case the hypothetical disaster occurs. Answer the “what if” question factually. “What if I forget Susie's Dr. Appointment?” Answer: “I've got a lot to do. I'll start carrying a calendar with everything marked on it.”
Endless Replay Worry. If you regret something you said or something that happened, then figure out how you could handle that situation better next time. Practice it over and over until you feel confident you know what you're doing.
Obsessive thinking is common. If it's interfering with your ability to function, get help. If obsessive thinking keeps you from leaving the house or working productively, or if you're sleeping all the time, or not sleeping well, or it's disrupting your relationships, then consult a trained therapist. As emotional problems go, obsessive thinking is simple to fix.
To learn to let go, follow these simple steps for resolving your fear and anxiety:
1. Learn to recognize the signs of your own anxiety. If you can't sleep, you worry a lot, you ruminateî or obsess about negative possibilities, or you're unusually irritable or needy, you are probably anxious, and need to manage your thoughts.
2. Give yourself a chance to complain and express your fear. When you're facing loss, problems or unwanted changes that are the result of a problem or someone else’s actions, you will have some resistance and objections. Allow yourself some time to complain and be unhappy about the situation. Express as many of the negative feelings and thoughts as possible, either verbally or on paper. If your fear is overwhelming, and you are having anxiety attacks, a therapist can help you with this part.
3. Evaluate your fears and complaints. Allow yourself some time to consider the points you made in your list. Is there anything that you can do differently? Do you want to? Have you made all the choices you can? Are you thinking clearly about the problem? Are you angry at anyone specifically? Are you resisting unnecessarily? If you have a choice, do you still want to change things? If you don't have a choice, can you see some alternatives? Do your options look different to you now?
4. Befriend yourself to build trust. Discuss the problem with yourself as helpfully as you would with another friend. Brainstorm for ideas, realistic or even silly, about what you could do to make things better. For example:
ï I could move somewhere else and avoid the whole thing.
ï I could talk to Harry and see if he can help me think this through.
ï I could ask for specific help. (List the help you want)
ï I could get an Extreme Makeover.
ï I could win millions in the lottery and be able to buy my safety.
ï I could go on with my life, doing the best I can, and trust that God will take care of me.
5. Do whatever you can to check the facts, and consider all the possibilities for taking care of yourself and those you love.
6. Review and decide. Once you've expressed your anger and disappointment, evaluated your feelings, brainstormed ideas and checked the facts, you will be feeling much more in charge of yourself and this situation. Review what you've discovered and make some decisions.
7. Sell yourself on a positive outcome. Think of all the possible great outcomes of the changes you're making. Consider what you will learn.
To let go of small things:
1: Perspectiveput them in perspectivewill it be important an hour from now or fifteen minutes from now? Most of them won't be.
2. Self-understanding: If someone or something upsets you, don't exacerbate the problem by getting on your own case for reacting. Reactions are normal -- it's what we do with them that counts.
3: Rise above: If someone frightened you (a driver who cut you off) then give a little prayer of thanks that you survived, bless the other driver (who probably needs it) and you'll feel better.
4. Benefit of the doubt: If someone hurt your feelings, acknowledge that your feelings are hurt, then consider that the other person is probably more clumsy than intentionally hurtful. The world is full of emotional klutzes who don't realize the impact of their words and actions, and they create more problems for themselves than for you.
5. Consider the source: A neighbor or associate who is truly nasty may repeatedly hurt your feelings. Consider what must be going on inside that person's head, and be grateful that you're not hearing that. Even the meanest people are far nastier to themselves than they are to others. That person is tryin to relieve his or her pain by inflicting some on you.
6: Adult time out: If someone repeatedly hurts, abuses or disrespects you, the best way to handle it is with an adult time out.
Handling difficult personalities takes skill and knowhow. Here's a technique anyone can learn to use that works every time.
Adult time out
If someone behaves badly in your presence, giving that adult a “time out” is a powerful and subtle way of fixing the problem. All you need to do is become very distant and polite around the person who is not treating you well. No personal talk and interaction, no joking, no emotion. Be very polite, so the person cannot accuse you of being unpleasant, mean or rude. There is no need to explain what you are doing: the problem person will get the message from your behavior -which is much more effective. Most people will change, but even if the person's behavior doesn't change, you can leave him or her in "time out" and you won’t have to be anxious about his or her behavior. (From It Ends with You © 2005 Tina B. Tessina)