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Easing Anxiety

July 8, 2009

Anxiety and cats. What do they have in common? I share close quarters with both of them.

Since I started working from home full time 7 months ago, my anxiety about my cat’s safety when they are outdoors has sky rocketed. When I was away at work I rarely worried about them, although when I was home at night if they weren’t inside by a certain time I would also start to worry. Now that I’m with them every day, I worry about them quite often. I get up and walk out to my front porch to see if they’re around, and to check the road to make sure they’re not…well, you know. But I don’t even want to entertain that thought! I know sending out positive vibrations about the health and well-being of my girls is the best way to live, and carrying around all this anxiety is the opposite.

Thinking about how to ease my anxiety around this subject got me thinking about anxiety in general. I just spent 3 seconds on Google and learned that apparently anxiety is not hereditary, although I was hoping that it was, because that would explain quite a bit. So what causes anxiety? There does seem to be some biological reasons for anxiety, but another main cause is stress. Where does stress come from? All around us, though I personally believe we can control our stress levels by steadying our thoughts.

Here is how I’m dealing with my own anxiety and what you can do if you are ever suffering from a similar problem.

1. Get to the story behind the stress. Why is it that I’m so worried about my cats being hit by a car when they’re outside? As I questioned myself I came up with two distinct answers. One, if something happened to them I feel it would be my fault, because I’ve taken on the responsibility of taking care of them. Two, I fear I would never recover from the pain of losing a pet from something other than an illness or old age, which brings us back ’round to the story that it would be my fault if something happened to them when they were outside.

So, as usual, once you figure out what story you’re telling yourself, it’s time to dismantle it. Is it true that it would be my fault if something happened to my cats? It feels true. Is there any situation in which it wouldn’t be true? If they got sick it wouldn’t be my fault (assuming I was feeding them and taking them to the vet regularly), if a meteor hit my house it wouldn’t be my fault, if they broke out of the window and got out it wouldn’t be my fault…yeah, I can see how there are ways where it wouldn’t be my fault if something happened to them. Do I feel good when I worry about this? No, I feel terrible! How would I feel without that story that if something happened to my cats it’s my fault? Free. Lastly, I need to turn the thought around to something like, “If something happened to my cats, it would not be my fault.”

You can do this with anything that’s causing you stress: a deadline at work, a relationship problem, an issue with man-eating zombies. Get to the story behind the stress. Are you worried you’ll mess up at work and everyone will hate you? Are you scared that your relationship will end and you’ll be alone and never find anyone else? Are you afraid you, too, will end up a zombie? Once you get to the root fear you can pick it apart and find out if it’s true. It’s probably not. Then give yourself a better feeling thought to replace the horrible, stressful story you’ve been telling yourself.

2. Have faith and trust the Universe. Maybe you don’t really believe in a higher power or a greater good. Maybe you do but you have a hard time giving over your fear to it. I constantly struggle with this. I truly and completely believe that there is something greater out there and that I am safe and loved, and that death isn’t the end of any of us. When it comes down to it, I believe that I’ll always be taken care of and that everything is okay. But trying to get me to remember that when I’m stressed about cats, money, career, or any other life issue is next to impossible.

I encounter this with my clients quite frequently. They may have a religious or spiritual belief in something greater and know they’ll always be taken care of it, but they forget to trust it. If you close your eyes right now, take a deep breath, and say, “I have faith that everything will be okay”, I bet you’ll feel much better. I just did it and I know I do.

3. Use any mindfulness technique you know to bring you to the present moment. Do you meditate? It’s a great way to ease anxiety. Do you like to stretch or do yoga, while focusing on the movement? Another great way to relieve stress. Can you slow down your thinking and focus on what’s happening right in front of you, right now? Yet another technique for stepping away from stress.

If you are paying attention to what you’re doing right this second, what anxiety can you possibly hold on to? For instance, right now my right leg is crossed over my left. I hear Anthony in the kitchen making coffee. I am typing without looking at the keyboard. My cell phone is to my left. I’m consciously taking deep breaths in and out. In other words, I’m here. Right now. If I’m here, how can my mind wander into worrying about my life? It can’t.

I meditate on and off, and I always find it very helpful. Another exercise I like to do is sit quietly for ten minutes and repeat over and over that everything is okay. In this moment everything is okay. Nothing is out of place. Everything is as it should be. I am alive. I am breathing. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly.

Good luck with easing your own mind and anxiety!

Be Joyful!

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