Learn to control anxiety and just let it go

It’s the end of an old year and the start of a new one. New beginnings are often filled with expected and unexpected changes.

Our response to predictable and unpredictable beginnings often evoke feelings of great anticipatory excitement as well as anxiety.

New experiences, although exciting, often come with anticipation and fear of the unknown.

As much as we invite them in, we mostly find the unknown and unfamiliar scary. This anxiety includes incessant worrying, restlessness, sleeplessness, butterflies in the tummy, tense muscles and difficulty concentrating or focusing.

Anxiety can be a daunting emotional state, regardless of whether the driver of the emotion is significant or totally benign. It’s that feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. It can be marked by physiological signs such as sweating, muscle tension and an increased heart rate or pulse. With anxiety, self-doubt seems to take over and you may feel like you can’t cope with everyday situations. It can prevent you from:

Starting or applying for a new job/studies;

Entering into a new relationship or ending a destructive one;

Attending social gatherings with friends; and

Seeking help from a professional – physical or mental health.

Whatever it looks like, anxiety is an experience we would rather do without.

Anxiety is often a fear that you project into a future experience.

You may have had a bad experience that left some unresolved emotional toxicity behind, and the emotional memories (conscious or unconscious) may have turned into a fear of repeating the bad experience. There may not even be a correlation between what happened in the past and what is happening now.

Regardless, the residual emotional component from that past experience is still very much alive and is what perpetuates the nervousness. For example, if, as a young child, you raised your hand in class and the other children laughed at you because you said the wrong thing, you may have developed an insecurity around putting yourself out there socially or in work meetings. If you were continuously overlooked or bullied during your adolescent years, it’s possible that you believe you are unworthy and will never get the job you dream of, so you don’t even bother trying.

As an adult, you might find yourself worrying about things like finances, health, and self-worth.

You might be worrying about whether or not your relationships are going to go the distance or if that confident (seemingly) new employee is going to take your job. You might even be wondering if you are good enough or do enough. We often create anxiety and worry by making an assumption about something that may or may not be happening – either now or in the future. We may construct elaborate stories about what we think is happening and then convince ourselves that this story is true. We may construct our reality based on how we are perceiving other people, ourselves and our experiences.

Everyday anxieties include concerns about the future; socio-political state of the world; deadlines; traffic; health and well-being of yourself and family members; difficult co-workers; job interviews; conflict of any sort; and uncertainty.

With some visualisation techniques you can travel into the future, beyond the successful completion of the event producing anxiety. When you turn and look backward, the previously perceived anxiety no longer has power over you.

Try the following visualisation technique to overcome some of your everyday anxieties.

Choose a space where you will not be disturbed for 15 minutes. Sit comfortably or lie on the floor and close your eyes. Begin to connect to your breath, making each inhalation and exhalation slow and deliberate. Follow your breath for a minute. When you get distracted, don’t judge or criticise this, gently return to your breathing.

Next, imagine which direction (in relation to your body) your future is in. Some people may imagine it is out in front of them, others may have an idea that it is off to the right or to the left. This is called your timeline and is how your unconscious mind envisions your past, present, and future.

Imagine in your mind that you float up above your timeline.

Now, float out into the future to 15 minutes after the successful completion of the event which you thought you were anxious about and stop there. Turn and look back toward “Now” along your timeline.

Ask yourself, “Where is the anxiety?” Often, the anxiety you felt is reduced. Float back toward “Now” above your timeline, float down into “Now” and open your eyes.

Now, test to make sure the anxiety is released. Think about the thing that used to make you anxious and notice that there is no or very little anxiety.

If the anxiety did not release, make sure you imagined the event completing successfully. Repeat if necessary. Note that in some cases where a person may have had extremely negative or traumatic experiences that created limiting beliefs or fears, this method may need to be preceded or used in conjunction with professional counselling or psychotherapy.

This technique is a good tool to use for the things you find yourself being anxious about on a day-to-day basis. If you are struggling with more severe anxiety-related thoughts or tendencies, please seek guidance treatment from a healthcare specialist. In some cases it may be necessary to first release the past negative emotion of fear and any limiting beliefs, such as thinking you are not good enough and not doing enough, related to it before the anxiety will release.

Having emotions is part of the human experience. In many cases, negative emotions and limiting beliefs are your unconscious mind’s way of warning or protecting you. The goal is to be able to discern when something is there as a message from the unconscious and when it’s no longer serving your process of growth. When it’s the latter, it’s time to thank it for the purpose it served and then let it go.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist in private practice. While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist. You can write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za

Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774. Ensure you provide sufficient information about your difficulty as this will help Carin to give you a more considered response.