Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s meant to keep you safe.
If someone dared you to jump off a bridge or tried to talk you into a get-rich-quick scheme, your anxiety should kick in and say that’s a bad idea.
But you also likely experience anxiety even when you aren’t in any actual danger. Walking into a job interview, attending a social gathering, or reviewing your budget might also cause a large spike in anxiety.
Knowing how to deal with that spike in anxiety is crucial to living your best life. Your brain will try to convince you to run away when something causes you anxiety. And if you listen, you might miss out on opportunities to improve your life.
As a psychotherapist, I offer people a variety of tools to help them manage their anxiety—and many of them I use myself. From breathing techniques that relax the body to thinking strategies that calm the mind, these anti-anxiety tools can be quite effective.
How to Externalize Your Anxiety With Narrative Therapy
1. Think of your anxiety as an external force. Rather than telling yourself, “I’m an anxious person,” or saying, “I’m so nervous,” think of anxiety as something that bothers you, not who you are. For example, you might say, “Anxiety causes my heart to beat fast and my mind to race.”
2. Name your anxiety. Many people find it helpful to name their anxiety. I’ve worked with clients who have called it everything from “the butterflies” to “the dark cloud.” This helps remind them that it’s something that comes into their life—but it’s not their identity.
3. Acknowledge how it affects you. Whether you say, “The butterflies make it hard to push myself to do scary things,” or “the dark cloud makes me think about worst-case scenarios,” identify how your anxiety affects the way you think, feel (emotionally and physically), and behave. You might even say things like, “The dark cloud will likely try to show up during that interview today.”
4. Imagine yourself in a battle. Think of all the times you haven’t listened to your anxiety and all the strategies you’ve used to combat it. Identify the weapons you’ve used in the past—and new tools you can try. For example, “Breathing techniques calm the butterflies,” or “Reminding myself of how things might go better than I expect pushes the dark clouds away.”
Externalizing your anxiety—and thinking of it like a battle—reminds you that you have choices in how you respond to those emotions. It can also help you accept that while it’s likely to continue bothering you at times, you don’t have to let it hold you back or drag you down.
When to Seek Professional Help
While some anxiety is normal, too much anxiety can get in the way of living your best life. If your anxiety makes it difficult to function or is holding you back from reaching your goals, seek professional help.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, talk to your physician. Inquire about a referral to a mental health professional who can assist you in finding relief.