As we approach National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week (May 8-15 this year), we are wrapping up our anxiety series with practical information to help you navigate the physical and emotional discomfort that often comes from anxiety.
The term “combat” is in the title of this article because actively lowering anxiety often feels just like a battle between you and your mind. Anxiety is a common human experience that can also feel really tough to navigate. The good news is that there are fairly simple ways to decrease your anxiety by engaging the rational and logical side of your brain. This could include a crossword puzzle, counting by 7’s, or even completing the daily “Wordle” puzzle!
Why do these activities work? A way to explain is using the “three states of mind” created by Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Picture a Venn diagram with Rational Mind on one circle – when thoughts are ruled by logic and reason, and Emotional Mind on the other – when thoughts are ruled by our ever-changing emotional state. The overlap of the circles is Wise Mind, and according to DBT this is the ideal state of mind – combining both rational thoughts and emotions. Think about buying a car – your Rational Mind helps you set your budget and your Emotional Mind guides a choice that you’ll be happy with. If you only used your emotions, you may end up with the luxury car that bankrupts you. If you only used your rational side, you could end up with a car you hate driving. It is the combination of the two that helps you choose a reliable, budget-friendly car you enjoy on that road trip!
So how can one actually use this to combat anxiety? First, pause and identify what state of mind you are in. If you are feeling highly anxious, you’re most likely in your Emotional Mind. Without any logic or reason, it is easy to feel increasingly overwhelmed and spiral into a full blown panic. To try and get to the ideal state of Wise Mind, you need to decrease emotions and increase your rational thoughts. To do this, try doing something that engages that rational mind: solve a math equation, write a Haiku, complete a wordsearch, say the ABC’s backwards, or look up fun riddles online. Completely focusing in this way will distract you from your emotions and hopefully get them to a place where you are no longer feeling overwhelmed and can more easily go about your day.
Of course, with any skill, practice makes perfect! Although I prefer to say “practice makes progress.” Worst case scenario, you at least had a mini mindfulness break from your day. Best case scenario, you diminish your anxiety and feel more control of your overall emotional state. So to combat that anxiety, put down the boxing gloves, balance and engage both your emotions and your rational thoughts to bring out the best in you – your Wise Mind.
Marcy O’Dell is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Action Consulting and Therapy in Geneva.