Managing anxiety

Last night I woke up no fewer than four times, each time from a fitful sleep and an anxious dream. I eventually woke up at 5am and stayed awake for two hours until my alarm went off, sighing into my pillow and feeling like my usual relaxation techniques weren’t working. Today I’m asking myself what I can do to manage this anxiety and I thought others of you who experience anxiety (before, during, or after your recovery from binge-eating disorder) might want to read my thoughts.

First of all, I think it’s important for us to realize (I’m reminding myself here) that anxiety doesn’t have to be avoided. It can be ridden out, almost like a wave. Those of us who have experienced physical pain of any sort know that (for the most part) the pain rises and then falls away after time. The same is true of the physiological feelings associated with anxiety. So, when you find yourself, as I do, with butterflies in the stomach, stomach cramps, and general shakiness, say to yourself, “This feeling will pass. I am not in danger.”

Second, try to locate the source of the anxiety. After all, anxiety is a feeling of fear that accompanies an anticipated threat (real or imagined–more often imagined). For example, the source of my own anxiety is my fear that 1) I won’t live up to the expectations of my new co-workers and boss; 2) I won’t be able to connect with my clients during group therapy; or 3) someone in my group will harm himself, me, or others. Knowing the source of my anxiety allows me to examine the accuracy or probability behind each of those thoughts.

So, third…examine your thoughts for accuracy and probability. For me, this would look like this: 1) Is it correct that I won’t live up to the expectations of others? Perhaps, but it’s not likely. I do well in most things I undertake. If I do let people down, I can always get feedback from them about how to do things better. 2) Is it correct that I won’t be able to connect with clients? So far, I’ve been able to connect with most of them. It is likely that I won’t connect with all of them, but few therapists can reach everyone. 3) Is it correct to assume that someone in my group might harm themselves, me, or others? It’s probably wise to know that it’s a possibility and to be on the lookout for signs of distress, but it’s not likely, given that most of my clients are under the care of a psychiatrist. I can create a plan of action for instances when someone does threaten or do harm to themselves, me, or others.

Fourth, take several deep breaths. Breathe in for four counts, hold it for three, breathe out for five. Then breathe in for five,  hold for four, breathe out for six. Then, 6-5-7. Then 7-6-8. Close your eyes and practice saying something like, “Wellness comes in” when breathing in and “Anxiety goes out” when breathing out.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling less anxious already. Managing anxiety is a powerful tool to keep in your recovery toolbox. Anxiety is one feeling that used to trigger a binge. I just wanted to flee that feeling and numb out. Bingeing was the only way I once knew how. Now, I know better.

Peace, joy, and health.

–Megan

“You did what you knew how to do. And when you knew better, you did better.” — Maya Angelou

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