Today, I’m diving into my positive affirmations, as negative and distorted thoughts have crept in. This is completely normal and something everyone goes through. I like to write my positive affirmations, which include quotes and Bible verses, on index cards. Today, I wrote one about being a business owner. The affirmations are kept on a shelf next to my work desk. As I read through my cards, I reflected on them, noticing that I’m feeling pretty good about them and have not needed to use certain affirmations for a few months! I take them to heart, I know that they are true.
When I’m going through my day and notice physical symptoms of worry and anxiety, I know that a helpful strategy is to visit my cards. Having three to four mental coping strategies on hand, that aren’t going on a run, is key. Addressing anxiety by going on a run is my top way to manage symptoms, but I can’t always go out when I want, so I take deep breaths and incorporate mindfulness to create a different reaction. I read my affirmations as many times as I feel appropriate. There are tougher days where I keep them on my desk and will intentionally be more aware of my breathing throughout the day, as I know that an unhelpful habit is to hold my breath.
When was the last time that you read or recited positive affirmations to yourself? If it has been a while, don’t forget that this is a simple way to redirect your thoughts. Know your distorted thoughts and unhelpful habits. Know when you need to use your positive affirmations and other coping strategies, and pay attention to the benefits.
Think of something that you’ve always dreamed of doing. Travel? Opening a business? Contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or ever? Dumping an unhealthy habit that you have been clinging to? It can be anything. It is probably overwhelming to think about and you might be afraid of the process. I’m talking about really stepping outside of your comfort zone and tearing down the protective barriers. Think about how freeing accomplishing that dream could feel… YOU DID IT! Think about all of the possible benefits of that accomplishment, like further opportunities, boost in self-esteem, feelings of gratitude and happiness, and reconnection.
Fear and Anxiety Holds Us Back
Being honest with yourself, what has kept you from doing that? If it is anxiety, you’re not alone. The feelings of fear and anxiety are there to protect us on a primitive level. These emotions help us to survive and make better choices. If we didn’t have these feelings, what would be stopping us from doing something dangerous? These are normal, healthy emotions and we can’t make them go away. We don’t want them to go away.
Our thoughts that hold us back can seem to come out of nowhere at times. Thoughts are naturally occurring and will come and go. Know that thoughts are thoughts and not reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Identify the thoughts that hold you back, reframe them to better use, and learn how to better manage your anxiety. Even though we can manage anxiety, we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it at bay.
What was that dream accomplishment that you thought of earlier? How can you make it work? What small steps can you take to get the ball rolling?
My Real-Life Example
Here is a simple example of a long-term goal of mine and thoughts that I struggle with. This is in regards to participating in the BADWATER 135 ultramarathon (I am a seasoned ultrarunner). This is a goal that has been several years in the making and there are a few more years to come in this journey before I stand at the start line. Many doubts have popped up in my mind over the years. Doubts that I’m not good enough, and doubts that details would never come together to make this dream a reality. Anxiety comes and goes. I experience anxiety over what people might say or think if I ever bring up wanting to run The World’s Toughest Footrace, so I rarely talk about it. Anxiety over becoming injured and never being able to run ever again. These thoughts have been bothersome, coming and going, since I got started. I want this goal bad enough, and I’m going to give my best effort, so the thoughts aren’t going to keep me from doing what I am passionate about.
Reframe Fearful and Anxious Thoughts
The unhelpful thoughts are identified, now let me show you how to reframe this fearful way of thinking. The doubt that “I’m not good enough” can be reframed to, “I am hardworking and have been thoughtfully and skillfully working towards this goal for years. I have grown so much, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’ve come so far, I’m not going to give up now.” And “things won’t ever come together for me,” to “continue to be patient, every year you are steps closer to this goal, and you are diligent in catching all of the preparation details.” As for the anxiety, “I can’t ever tell anyone without being judged,” to “who cares what people have to say about it, this is something that I love.” For anxiety over injury, “I’m worried that I’m going to get injured in a freak accident on the trail while training,” to “I’m a careful and skilled runner. I rest my body and care for it enough, so that I can do what I do. My running coach is also mindful when it comes to injury prevention.” That is how to reframe, think realistically.
More Anxiety Management
There are multiple ways to manage anxiety. Self-care should be the top priority because it is the base from which we build upon. This includes proper diet, exercise, and sleep. Use the reframing skill from above. Learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coping strategies. Talk with a licensed professional counselor to have support in sorting out the details and find what works for you. Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Practice these things consistently overtime to create helpful habits. The process isn’t always easy, there are challenging times, stick with it, and give yourself grace. It is a true learning process. I have been using these strategies consistently for years and they work. As you do the strategies, you will find favorites and learn when to use which strategy, as one will be more helpful than another in any given scenario.
When Your Dream Becomes a Reality
When the time comes to tackle that dream, reflect on your journey. How does it feel to be where you are, today? What is the biggest thing that you learned in those smaller steps? How can you apply what you have learned in the future? Continue the helpful habits that you have established or are continuing to work on. Honestly, the work never ends, and having a healthy mind is a ton of work, but we absolutely need to nourish it.
When that dream becomes reality, be connected and in the moment with it. Take it in. What does it feel like physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What is the greatest part of the experience? How proud do you feel? What have you learned? When it’s all over, would you do it again? It is important that we acknowledge the benefits of the hard work and perseverance. There is a mountain of experience to take away from accomplishing a dream.
I hope that you found this article insightful and are perhaps examining anxious thoughts that are keeping you from achieving your dreams. Incorporate the strategies that I have discussed into your day-to-day life and notice the benefits. Keep striving towards accomplishing your dreams, soaking in that journey.
Use this distress scale to help you stay more aware of how you are doing. The scale is 0 to 10, where 0 is that you feel at peace and are completely calm, and 10 is distress that is so unbearable that you cannot function. Refer to the scale, as-needed. If you find yourself rated at 4, where negative thoughts begin to impact you, consider talking to a mental health professional because it is better to get help sooner than later. Don’t allow yourself to be in a distressful state for too long. When you feel change is needed, take action and contact someone.
Seek help from a mental health professional at any time, you do not need to be in distress to get help. A professional counselor can provide services for things such as managing stress and anxiety, examining thoughts and behaviors, support you in life transitions, and teach you how to strengthen your mind.
0: Peace and complete calm
1: No real distress, but a slight feeling of unpleasantness
2: A little bit sad or “off”
3: Worried or upset
4: Upset to the point that negative thoughts begin to impact you
5: Upset and uncomfortable
6: Discomfort to the point that you feel a change is needed
7: Discomfort dominates your thoughts and you struggle not to show it
8: Panic takes hold
9: Feeling desperate, helpless, and unable to handle it
10: Unbearably upset to the point that you cannot function and may be on the verge of a breakdown
To all of the busy women, here are some strategies that can help you be productive and calm.
Does this sound familiar to you? Personally, as a busy person (have a young daughter, maintaining relationships, keeping the house tidy, running my own mental health private practice, blogging (for two websites), and preparing for ultramarathons), I struggle with being calm while I go about my day.
Here’s how it usually goes.
I’m usually productive in some way because there is always something that needs done. I tend to feel like things need to be done in an overly particular way. Tasks get done, it’s just not always how well (quality) or in the order that I’d like it to be, so I need to be flexible.
When there’s anxiety present.
Anxiety couples this feeling that something needs to be a certain way or lack of having an amount of control. Anxiety is also provoked when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things that I need to do. It’s difficult being calm. I want things to be completed in a timely manner and done right. Sometimes, I aim for perfection, but I know that that’s unrealistic. I put a lot of pressure on myself.
How do I remain calm while I’m in a state of being busy and usually anxious?
• I practice time management • Prioritize tasks • Ask others for help • Tell someone “no” when they ask if I can do something when I truly don’t have the time • Mindfulness • Slow myself down, so I can think clearly • Stay grounded • Self-care. Sometimes taking a full day for it! • Exercise or run • I focus on my strengths and goals (and the reasons behind them) • I think positive (in general) • I reframe my distorted thinking • I write down affirmations
There are probably some other tricks that I use that aren’t coming to mind. Whatever I do, I choose to act in a more helpful and healthy manner. I choose to react in a way that is more calm.
How do I know which strategy will help?
I don’t 100% of the time know which strategy will help, but I do know that I can try two or three and see if they work. Overtime, it is easier to know which strategies will work and for what. If a strategy doesn’t help, no big deal, pick another. There are instances where anxiety is stronger and it takes a handful of strategies to help. Also, no big deal.
The strategies from this list are additional “to do’s”, but they makes life better and adds peace. This work becomes more effortless the more that I practice it. You can do this, too.
This article is about four simple, yet powerful ways to manage worry and anxiety. Are you worried about how things are going to go for you? Do you fear that you won’t be able to handle potential problems? How can you make a tough decision not having all of the details? Here’s what you CAN do. You can take control of your mind by shifting what you focus on. You can choose to focus on your strengths and the things that you have control over. You can also challenge irrational thoughts of uncertainty and worry.
Handling being worried over how things are going to go for you.
Who do I want to be?
What quality of presence do I want to bring to any challenges I face?
Note the shift that occurs when you go from focusing on what will go wrong today to the person you want to be.
Challenge your fear that you won’t be able to handle potential problems.
One way to address this fear is to imagine yourself coping. Whenever you are worried about a problem that could happen, envision yourself skillfully coping with it.
What does that look like?
Recall a strength that you have demonstrated multiple times when you’ve risen to meet a challenge. Then, expect yourself to rise, bringing that same strength, resourcefulness, and determination to the problem that might challenge you today.
Pause & notice whether this time is different.
When a familiar worry or fear crosses your mind, this can be about failing or that something horrible will happen, notice that it has never actually happened.
It’s likely that your mind is ignoring all of the times that those worries and fears didn’t come true and that this time is different.
If this sounds like your experiences, then consider that the worry or fear is a false alarm, like the other times.
Make decisions even when there is uncertainty.
When you’re making a tough decision, all you can do is make the best choice for what you know right then and there.
Embrace the reality of not having all of the information and details today, not knowing exactly what the outcome will be.
Allow yourself to be free from the assumption that you’re responsible for knowing the unknown.
By choosing to focus on what is helpful, you can better manage your worries and anxiety. Always draw from your strengths and know that you will overcome any stressful situations that lay ahead because you have overcome things in the past. Challenge irrational and distorted thoughts, acknowledging and then reframing them. Notice the shift in thinking and how you feel afterwards. Practice these tips so that they stick to your mind and alter how your mind works. Have power over worry and anxiety.
IMPROVE the Moment is the next skill. The acronym IMPROVE makes life a little bit better when it is not going so well.
During a crisis, you have two options. You can sink into the distress or invest in behaviors that might improve how you feel in the moment.
I: Imagery M: Meaning P: Prayer R: Relaxation O: One thing (or moment) at a time V: Vacation E: Encouragement
Imagery is powerful because your mind can convince your body that you are elsewhere. A good example is being at the beach. When you’re actually sitting on the beach, your muscles are relaxed. When you imagine yourself at the beach (and you’re elsewhere), you can still get your muscles to relax, you convince your body that you are sitting there.
Ideas for imagery
Use an app or purchase a recorded guided imagery. You can also just use your own mind and create a guided imagery.
• Forest path • Walk on the beach • Favorite place • Safe place • Sunflower field • Stroll by a stream • Waterfall • Garden of butterflies • Sunset • Star gazing • Mountain summit hike • Sitting by a campfire
Practice and enjoy the benefits! Also, imagine yourself doing well and practicing your skills.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), one of the founders of existential therapy, once said “If there is a why, then a person can figure out the how.” [Look him up, his life was remarkable. He wrote the book “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” which is about being a psychologist in a concentration camp. He is well-known for this book, but he has several other accomplishments.]
List and contemplate your “whys” for working on any problem.
Examples: Why stay safe?; why practice your skills?; why improve your self-care?
Having meaning motivates you; your whys will motivate you to act.
Prayer is a calming ritual, it also provides connection, guidance, and peace.
Pray where you are at, or go to your place of connectedness or worship. This skill is useful anywhere and at anytime. Connect to your spirituality.
Everyone needs relaxation. What do you do to relax? What do you think could be relaxing that you would like to try?
Schedule in some of those relaxing behaviors every day. Keep in mind that relaxing also takes practice.
Tips for practice: Be mindful of your breathing; be mindful of tense muscles and release the tension; sit in a quiet place.
One thing (or moment) at a time
Take on only one thing in the moment. When we try to juggle or do too many things at once, we become overwhelmed and or shut down completely.
Example: You don’t know how to make it through your day, but you know that you can make it through the next hour, or through the next 5 minutes. Focus on what is manageable.
Take a break from your stressors or crisis. These breaks need to be planned, like scheduling a walk in the park in the evening, or watching your favorite movie before bedtime. Taking quiet time to reflect, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises are also good ideas.
Allow yourself to take a break when you feel that you need it.
You need encouragement during those tough times. The things that you say to yourself matter, they influence how you feel.
During your self-talk, say affirmations, coach, and cheer for yourself.
Write down 10 affirmations you can repeat to yourself throughout difficult times.
• This crisis will pass. • I can do this! • I have everything that I need to get through this.
Download affirmations to help get through a crisis here
The ACCEPTS acronym has skills that helps keep you busy and distracted when you would typically be preoccupied by a crisis. It is easy to dwell on what is going wrong, by focusing on the ACCEPTS behaviors, you can get yourself through hard times.
Activities keep you busy and your mind off of problems and behaviors. The behaviors that you are focused on are healthy and helpful.
To start practicing this skill, write a list of activities you enjoy when life feels better. If you’re unsure or need ideas, go online and search for activity lists.
Add the pleasant activities into your schedule and mindfully do them.
Choose an activity and enjoy it now!
Contribute to others. It is a way to take your mind off of your own problems, to feel connected and useful, and to create positive feelings.
Do a favor; acts of kindness; write a thank you note; bake brownies to share; volunteer locally.
Create a list of ways to contribute to others and begin right away.
Afterwards, journal about the experience, reflecting on your thoughts and feelings.
Draw healthy comparisons between yourself and others. There are people living without necessities, who have gone through tragedies, or who have tremendous obstacles to overcome. Remembering that other people are also suffering, often in worse ways, allows for you to gain perspective of what you’re going through. This perspective also increases your feelings of gratefulness.
Emotions arise from the things we do. You can change your emotion by changing your behavior.
When you’re depressed, do behaviors that lift your spirits. When you’re anxious, do ones that are relaxing. When angry, do ones that are calming.
Check-in with your emotions in the moment, and if you find that you want change, then choose to participate in a healthy behavior to change your emotion.
Pushing away means that you decide to revisit the problem at another time. Imagine putting the problem in a box, locking the box, and placing it on a shelf for later.
You cannot think about two things at once, so choose to direct your attention to the most helpful thought.
Some ideas to try, crossword puzzles, read an interesting book, have an intriguing conversation, watch an action movie.
Do something to occupy your thoughts away from depressive thoughts, worries, and problems.
Practice in the moment.
Direct yourself with healthy sensations.
Things to try, dance to loud music, eat a sour lemon slice, take a hot or cold bath, smell a strong scent, like peppermint.
These things wake up your senses in an invigorating way. Notice any changes in your experience.
Another idea, create a sensations toolkit, using your favorite ways to wake up your sensations. Use your tools.
When people “cope” with stress and crisis, they find out ways (behaviors) that relieve stress, however, some of these ways come with heavy consequences. Examples of ineffective behaviors are drug and alcohol use, self-injury, gambling, spending money, and overeating.
We can learn distress tolerance skills to effectively manage the stress and crisis. These skills are more helpful than dealing with the consequences of the ineffective behaviors that make life worse.
Try it out
Make two lists, one is your ineffective coping behaviors, and the second is your healthy coping behaviors. If you’re struggling coming up with the healthy ones, keep thinking, because everyone has at least a few.
The goal is to work on eliminating the ineffective coping behaviors on the first list while developing the behaviors on the second.
This process is “doing more of what works”, replacing the ineffective with the healthy and effective.
Guidelines to improve distress tolerance skills
1. Practice the skills daily, even when you’re not feeling distressed. The skills tend to be enjoyable, so practicing shouldn’t feel like work.
2. Diversify the skills, try new ones, and practice every skill more than once because you don’t know which ones will “click” for you.
3. Organize a distress tolerance plan for when you’re in crisis and choose to follow the plan. It will keep you focused. Write down your organized plan on an index card. This would be your coping behaviors and any people who can provide support. Keep this card with you.
This index card plan works well for children while they’re away from home. Example: at school.
This is general information on distress tolerance and the skills to learn to better cope with stress and crisis, the next step is to learn the skills themselves, practice applying them, watch for improvements, and make necessary adjustments.