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10 Effective Anxiety Management Techniques To Cope With Your Difficult Family and Thrive in Any Family Situation
Here are ten anxiety-management techniques that are well worth trying.
Please practice all of these to discern which ones work best for you:
1. Deep breathing.
The simplest — and a very powerful — anxiety management technique is deep breathing. By breathing slowly and deeply (five seconds on the inhale, five seconds on the exhale), you stop your racing mind and alert your body to the fact that you wish to be calmer.
2. Cognitive self-help.
Changing the way you think is a powerful anti-anxiety strategy. You can do this straightforwardly by:
a. Noticing what you are saying to yourself
b. Disputing the self-talk that makes you anxious or that does not serve you
c. Substituting more affirmative, calming, or useful self-talk
A variation on the two strategies above is to use them together by accompanying your deep breaths with a useful thought, thinking half the thought on the inhale and the second half on the exhale.
Incantations that might reduce your experience of anxiety include “I am perfectly calm” and “I can thrive in my family.” Experiment with some short phrases and find one or two that serve to calm you.
4. Physical relaxation techniques.
Physical relaxation techniques range from simple procedures, such as rubbing your shoulder, to more elaborate “progressive relaxation techniques,” in which you slowly relax each part of your body in turn. Doing something physically soothing can be really effective in helping you calm yourself.
5. Mindfulness practices.
Meditation and other mindfulness practices that help you take charge of your thoughts can prove very useful as part of your anxiety-management program. The better you grasp the idea that the contents of your mind create suffering and the more fully you can release those thoughts, the less anxiety you will experience.
6. Guided imagery.
Guided imagery is a technique in which you guide yourself to calmness by mentally picturing a calming image or series of images. You might picture yourself on a blanket at the beach, walking by a lake, or swinging on a porch swing.
First, determine what images actually calm you by trying out various images in your mind’s eye. Then, when you’ve come up with some calming images, bring them to mind when you’re feeling anxious.
7. Disidentification and detachment techniques.
A great way to reduce your anxiety is by learning to bring a calm, detached perspective to life and by turning yourself into someone whose default approach is to create calm rather than to create drama and stress. You do this in part by affirming that you are different from and larger than any transitory part of your life: any feeling, any thought, any worry, any regret, any family drama. By taking a more philosophical and detached approach, you can meet life more calmly.
8. Reorienting techniques.
You can consciously reorient yourself away from anxiety-producing stimuli and toward neutral or positive stimuli. For example, if your parents are fighting, you can put on your noise-canceling headphones and listen to music you love.
9. Discharge techniques.
When anxiety and stress build up in the body, techniques that vent that stress can prove very useful. One discharge technique is to silently scream — to make the facial gestures that go with uttering a good, cleansing scream without actually uttering a sound (which would be inappropriate in most settings). Jumping jacks, push-ups, and physical gestures of all sorts can be used to help pass the venom of anxiety out of your system.
10. Flipping the calmness switch.
Last but not least, try the following visualization. Picture yourself “flipping your calmness switch” and deciding to become a calmer person. Create a mental picture of that calmness switch: say something to yourself along the lines of “I genuinely want to feel calmer,” and imagine flipping that switch in the direction of calmness.
Consider that last technique.
It’s odd, but you can become genuinely calmer just by deciding to become calmer. When something happens to raise your anxiety level today, whether it’s a problem at work, something you encounter in the news, one of your chronic pestering thoughts, or something agitating that occurs in your family, take a deep breath and say, “No. I am practicing calmness. I’ve flipped my calmness switch, and I can deal with this calmly.”
When that thing that your mate does that always drives you crazy is about to drive you crazy for the millionth time and provoke a fight that you know will lead nowhere, say, “No. I am practicing calmness. I’ve flipped my calmness switch, and I can deal with this calmly.”
When you feel terrible heaviness and emptiness during a family visit, when you know that the deep sadness that dogs your heels is about to overwhelm you, rather than rushing off manically to do something to forestall that feeling or taking to your bed and pulling the covers over your head, say, “No. I am practicing calmness. I’ve flipped my calmness switch, and I can deal with this calmly.”
Many people are trying to function in the middle of perpetual chaos, busyness, and inner turmoil.
They run hard all day, commuting, handling work responsibilities, picking up their kids, shopping for meals, and simultaneously dealing with everything else that life throws at them, from health issues to bill payments to family crises to the state of their yard. Who can stay centered or even catch their breath nowadays? Where is calmness in that picture?
This chaos and overwhelm only increase if you are also dealing with intense family difficulties. Conversely, this perpetual chaos makes an already difficult family situation worse. Maybe you might be able to focus on your child’s school difficulties, your mate’s coldness, or your aging parent’s daily demands if you weren’t also obliged to handle a hundred other tasks, chores, and challenges. You may be just barely able to get items checked off your perpetual to-do list and keep your life afloat — but you’re doing it at the cost of your emotional and physical health and with the added, unfortunate result that your serious family difficulties go unattended.
Ceremony: Locating Calm with a Snow Globe
Take some time each day, or a few times each day, for the following ceremony. Purchase a snow globe if you don’t already have one. Shake it up.
As the snow settles, breathe deeply, and say or think, “I am settling,” “I am calming down,” or some other phrase of your own choosing that helps you articulate that you now feel calmer.
You can enact this ceremony with an actual snow globe — you can even have one fabricated to your specifications — or you can enact it as a mind ceremony, shaking up an imaginary snow globe and watching it settle in your mind’s eye.
To achieve calmness in the face of multiple challenges, it is imperative that you identify a few anxiety-management techniques that work for you and practice them.
You want to feel confident that you can calm your nerves before, say, having a hard discussion with your child or your mate. If you lack that confidence and you don’t know how to handle your nerves, you’re likely to avoid that conversation once again.
Make a concerted effort to bring calmness into your life by enacting the snow globe ceremony daily, by learning to flip your calmness switch, and by practicing anxiety-management techniques. Anxiety is a given; calmness is an acquired skill, one that you really need and one that you can work on and get better at.
Adding Calmness to Your Tool Kit
1. What in your current family situation agitates you and raises your anxiety level? What can possibly be done to change those dynamics?
2. Name some ways that you would like to grow calmer, and identify the steps you mean to take in order to get calmer.
Excerpted from the book Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation. Copyright ©2017 by Eric Maisel. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the author
Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than fifty books including his latest, Overcoming Your Difficult Family. He has been quoted or featured in a variety of publications, including Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Glamour, Men’s Health, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Self. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His website is www.EricMaisel.com.