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Anxiety is natural. It doesn’t have to be second-nature.

Anxiety, a form of worry or uneasiness, can be a common reaction to stress

From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library

Anxiety, a form of worry or uneasiness, can be a common reaction to stress. Like other emotions, it can be useful when it makes us pause and reassess our situation or surroundings.

Sometimes, if anxiety leads to negative rumination, it can become more pronounced and become a more destructive influence. Negative rumination is a state when strong or uncomfortable emotions or thoughts play on a constant loop in our minds. This cycle can overwhelm our thoughts and emotions, impacting our quality of life and ability to function.

How Can I Tell if I’m Negatively Ruminating?

Your anxiety may have tipped over into negative rumination if:

  • You’ve lost perspective on priorities.  Anxiety can make everything on your to-do list look equally important, or insurmountable. For example, if you can’t decide whether to do laundry or finish a work project that’s due tomorrow, anxiety might be affecting your perspective, as the work project comes with higher consequences. This state of mind can keep us from acting, causing more and more things to slip, escalating anxiety and indecision further.
  • Your mental conversation contains a lot of what ifs.  In other words, you spend time and energy imagining what might be instead of what is. For instance, imagine you turned in a work report to your boss and haven’t heard back. Your boss loved the report but forgot to let you know before sending it upstream. Instead of asking her directly if she had any questions, or needs help, you might think, “What if my boss didn’t like my report? What if she thinks I didn’t put enough effort into it?  Should I add more pages and give her a new draft?” This kind of thinking might cause you to burn time and energy to try to fix an issue that doesn’t even exist.
  • In your mind, every scenario ends badly.  Anxiety can make us lose trust in ourselves, our knowledge and our decision capabilities. When in this state, we might see every course of action leading down a bad path, which can be paralyzing, inhibiting us from thinking constructively and working toward positive outcomes.

If you regularly experience any of the above, it could be that anxiety has gone from being a natural cue to pause and reflect during extreme circumstances to being a second-nature response to everyday situations.

Here are some things you can try to be more resilient when faced with anxiety, helping to put it back in its natural, constructive place.

  1. Mindfulness  We’ve talked before about ways that a wandering mind can lead to rumination and anxiety. Click here for more about that, including steps for a mindful breathing exercise to help counter negative rumination loops.
  2. Exercise – Physical activity can be both a preventive and a remedy. If you’re feeling particularly anxious, taking even a 10-minute walk can help you get out of your head and restore perspective. And, science shows that people who exercise regularly are less likely to feel anxious than their more sedentary counterparts.
  3. Journaling – Research has shown that journaling, or writing down your thoughts and feelings, can be an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety. By writing down what’s going on inside your head, you’re shifting from the realm of thought to action. Once you’ve written your worries down, you can work to change the narrative by challenging assumptions with questions like: Is this realistic? How likely will it be to happen? Is there anything I can do to stop it from happening? If not, what can I do to make it through? 
  4. Aromatherapy - Studies have shown that some scents like lavender, chamomile or roses can trigger calming chemical reactions in the parts of your brain that affect mood and emotion. Consider incorporating some essential oils or naturally scented candles into a regular breathing meditation practice to increase the effectiveness of both.
  5. Sleep  Since getting enough Zzzs helps both refresh your mental processes and boost mood and focus, you’re less likely to be anxious if you’re well rested. But, ironically, though getting enough sleep can help defend against anxiety when we’re anxious we’re often not able to sleep. If you frequently have trouble getting a good night’s rest, check out this article for helpful thoughts and solutions.
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