According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental health problem. For some people, anxiety can feel all-consuming, and it can be difficult to quiet the mind. The cycle of anxious thoughts activates the fear center in the brain causing us to enter fight or flight.
Fear, Anxiety, and Worry…Oh my!
What are the differences between anxiety, fear and worry? Although they are connected to one another, they are 3 different things.
- Fear is an emotion caused by a known/present threat. For example, a person would experience the emotion of fear when being robbed.
- Anxiety is defined as the anticipation of fear and is associated with memories of the fear. Anxiety occurs in the body and is the physical sensation that we experience when we feel threatened. It is often described as emotional distress that is difficult to control. In the example used above, the person who was robbed may now experience symptoms of anxiety in response to being robbed (fight or flight). They may feel anxious at the same time of day when the robbery occurred or when going near the location in which it happened.
- Worry is the thought process going on behind the fear and anxiety. It is the mental anticipation and preparation for future negative events. This involves thinking about things that might happen and the potential consequences, as well as attempts to problem solve around those potential negative outcomes. Worry is more controllable than anxiety, and often surrounds realistic, temporary concerns.
You are more than your thoughts
When we experience fear, anxiety and worry, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and our brains interpret the situation as a perceived threat, even if it’s not life threatening. We then experience an emotion in response to our brain’s interpretation of the situation and we act in response to the emotion. Just because we have a thought, does not mean that it is reality. Not everything that enters our mind is true and we can slow down the process so that we can choose how to respond, rather than responding on impulse.
5 Ways to Decrease Anxious Thoughts
1. Pause. Calm. Think. Picture a stop sign. Take some deep breaths and get some perspective. Look at things from a different angle.
2. Move your body. Do some yoga or take a walk to calm your body down and move the tension.
3. Utilize your support system. Talk it out with a trusted friend or counselor.
4. Practice Mindfulness. Utilize grounding techniques to keep you in the present moment.
5. Wait it out. Anxiety can come in waves. If you sit with it long enough, it eventually begins to subside.
Calming your mind takes intentionality, patience, and practice. Set aside some time daily to assess your thought patterns and practice the skills mentioned above. Keeping a thought journal helps you becomes more self-aware and will help you be better equipped to reframe anxious thoughts moving forward.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety and finding it difficult to calm your mind, reach out to a trusted mental health provider.