Most people who know that they are anxious do not make a sufficient effort to improve their anxiety-management skills and, by improving them, becoming less anxious. Instead they opt to “white knuckle” life or medicate themselves with anti-anxiety medication. Your core work as a human being who wants to experience mental health and get your creating done requires more than this. It requires a diligent, systematic effort to find anxiety-management techniques that work for you and to actually employ those techniques.

Today, take a little time and think about the following 9 anxiety management strategies. If you want to go the extra mile, actually experiment with them and begin to learn which ones work for you. Then use the ones that work best!

1. Deep breathing

The simplest—and a quite powerful—anxiety management technique is deep breathing. By stopping to deeply breathe (5 seconds on the inhale, 5 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 1) noticing what you are saying to yourself; 2) disputing the self-talk that makes you anxious or that does not serve you; and 3) substituting more affirmative, calming or useful self-talk. This three-step process really works.

3. Incanting

A variation on strategies one and two is to use them together by “dropping” a useful cognition into a deep breath, thinking “half” the thought on the inhale and “half” the thought on the exhale. Incantations that might reduce your experience of anxiety include “I am perfectly calm” and “I trust my resources.” Experiment with some short phrases and find one or two that, when dropped into a deep breath, serve to calm you.

4. Physical relaxation techniques

Physical relaxation techniques include such simple procedures as rubbing your shoulder and such elaborate procedures as “progressive relaxation techniques” where you slowly relax each part of your body in turn. Doing something physically soothing can prove really useful to help you calm yourself.

5. Mindfulness practices

Meditation and other mindfulness practices that help you take charge of your thoughts and get a grip on your mind can prove very useful as part of your anxiety management program. The better you grasp the idea that the contents of your mind make suffering and the better job you do of releasing those thoughts, the less you will experience anxiety.

6. Guided imagery

Guided imagery is a technique where you guide yourself to calmness by mentally picturing a calming image or a series of images. You might picture yourself on a blanket by 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 landed on some calming images, bring them to mind when you’re feeling anxious. A perfect strategy for a visual artist!

7. Disidentification and detachment techniques

A great way to reduce your experience of anxiety is by learning to bring a calm, detached perspective to life and by turning yourself into someone whose default approach to life 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 failed short story or painting. By taking a more philosophical and detached approach to life you meet life more calmly.

8. Reorienting techniques

You can consciously reorient yourself away from your anxious thoughts and toward a more neutral stimulus. For example, instead of focusing on the collector wandering around your studio looking at your paintings, focus on the view from your window. Instead of focusing on the couple passing through your studio during an open studio weekend, focus on the aroma of the cookies you’re baking.

9. Discharge techniques

Anxiety and stress build up in the body and 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 any sound (which would be inappropriate in most settings). Jumping jacks, pushups and physical gestures of all sorts can be used to help release the “venom” of anxiety and pass it out of your system.
Do the following simple thing today: consider these nine strategies. If you want to go the extra mile, practice one or two of them and see if they feel congenial to you. The more effectively you manage your anxiety, the better a job you’ll do of facing a blank canvas, a blank page, an expectant audience, or dealing with the marketplace!

More next week!

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