Dealing with anxiety requires two things: preparation paired with balanced thinking. The way this magic mixture works is that,
when you start thinking about how poorly everything is going, you’ll catch yourself and use your new tool to remind yourself which ANTs are in control, give yourself some positive and balanced thoughts to replace those ANTs, and check in to see what you need to do to be prepared for the situation. Then,
feeling a bit more positive prevents you from falling into the trap of worry and panic.
A great place to start with preventing anxiety, worry, and panic is to know what particular situations make you anxious. Once you can identify those, you can prepare for them: Study for the test. Finish your homework. Practice your swing.
Play that piano piece over and over. Plan ahead for the week. Know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Ask questions. Lots of them!
Here’s another powerful tool for preparing for challenging situations: Using your imagination to think positive thoughts. If an upcoming situation has you crawling with worry ANTs, try this exercise. First, close your eyes and take five deep, slow breaths and open your imagination. Imagine that things go well. Imagine that you do well. Imagine how you will handle problems that might arise. Be aware, though, that what works to calm you and make you feel in control might not be what works for someone else, because everyone is unique. So play around and try different things. Make up a story about what will happen and write it down. Draw pictures of different outcomes. Make up a poem or a song about the situation. Or create a list of ways you can prepare and reasons why you won’t be anxious.
What works for you might seem silly, but who cares? The point is that your thought-through coping strategy just might work. Most times, being a little silly can be a big help, too. It can make you realize the situation isn’t as serious as it feels when you’re anxious or panicking. Basically, preparing helps you to change the way you react when anxiety tries to take over. It allows you to focus on the positive fact that you are prepared.
In sum, it’s the negative thoughts that cause anxiety, so the key is to push away and replace those negative thoughts with positive, realistic thoughts. That said, though, there are many things we can’t control. Sometimes the best we can do is learn to live with those things while still striving for a high quality life. Remember, much about which we worry never happens. If it does, we use our unique smarts and creative problem-solving skills to manage the situation. We rock our ability to own our thoughts, actions, and behavior. After much practice, many trials and errors, this mindful approach to living can become your default mode and possibly save you from much unnecessary turmoil.
At the first sign of feeling anxious try this process:
- Listen and pay attention to your thoughts. Thank them for trying to help you and say, “I’ve got this
from here!” Then write down all those thoughts you
identify as negative.
- Use the ANT categories in this book to help you
identify the thoughts causing your fear. In other
words, find out what you fear.
- Now think of a balanced, realistic thought that “talks
back” to each of the ANTs. Write that down too.
- Ask yourself, “Is there any action I need to take in
order to feel less worried? “
- Tell yourself, “This is hard, but I’ll get through it.”
For example, imagine your teacher says you will have a test tomorrow. You worry you will fail the test. Your first step can be to pay extra attention and listen to your thoughts. The first ones tell you that you failed the last test (a fact) and that you are not smart (Uh, oh! “Labeling” ANT!). Instead of going into a full panic attack, you can pause and decide to fight that ANT with a balanced view of the facts: The truth is that you did not study for the last test you failed, but 1) you do not fail every test, and 2) you prepared, asked for help, and studied this time! Because you prepared and the facts all point to a positive outcome, you can replace your ANT with the positive facts of: “I can get a decent grade. I don’t have to panic. I see that the action I need to take to help me feel better is to study more tonight and ask my mom to quiz me.” Eventually, this approach will start to calm you.