Anxiety, the feeling of tension, worry, nervousness (usually about an upcoming event or an unknown outcome), is something that most people will experience at various points throughout their lives. Especially in the society in which we live, where life is usually fast-paced with a focus on the future, anxiety seems to be especially prevalent. As human beings, we also have a tendency to think about the past, which can lead us down a path of anxiety/regret for choices we have made. Let’s also not forget the day-to-day present stressors, which can promote anxiety, such as bills, relationships, child-rearing, employment, and job satisfaction, just to name a few. Whether we are focused on the past, present, or future, anxiety can naturally creep into our experience.
When anxiety begins to take over, reaching out for support from friends, family, or a counselor, can be very beneficial. Receiving support from family/friends can be soothing and help us keep things in perspective, which may help to alleviate anxiety. Other times, a counselor can help us identify ways of managing anxiety.
There are several approaches to managing anxiety that have been considered standard approaches in the counseling field. These include the use of relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation (progressively relaxing muscles to allow for a deep state of relaxation); identifying triggers and associated cognitions/feelings/behaviors/physiological sensations; and changing thought patterns to create more balanced thinking. If you are experiencing anxiety, it may be helpful to talk with a counselor about these approaches (and others) to help you manage anxiety. Additionally, couples and family therapy can be supportive for someone experiencing anxiety to get support from loved ones and to identify other triggers to anxiety that can be worked out in a couple/family setting.
There have also been recent studies looking into the benefit of mindfulness practices in managing anxiety. Drawn from eastern philosophies and religions, mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment, of being aware of our thoughts/feelings/behaviors/surroundings without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of accepting the present moment. Tich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness author and Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, writes, “Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.” Although drawn from eastern religions, mindfulness can be applied in a secular way and can be used in an integrated fashion with other religions.
Studies seem to show the benefit of mindfulness in decreasing stress and increasing positive emotions in one’s life, in addition to a number of other benefits. Talking with a mindfulness-based counselor can help you identify ways of applying mindfulness in your life and with your relationships. Although difficult to live this way all of the time, to live in the present moment most of the time can create a sense of calmness/soothing, gratitude, and ability to tolerate positive and negative experiences – which can be a very different experience from the fast-paced, future-focused world in which we live.
Aleisha Maunu, MA, LMFT, CACII, is a therapist who works with individuals, couples, families, and children/teens. Her areas of experience include adoption/attachment, substance abuse, and other family/couple concerns. She provides services through Maria Droste Counseling Center in Denver, CO.