Last week I was sitting with a dear friend that I don’t get to see very often. It’s the kind of friendship where you can say anything to each other and you know you’ll be fully heard and supported. As we often do, we began talking about the challenges we’re facing, the things in our lives that we worry and feel anxious about. Almost immediately, I began telling her about the three questions that I often rely on not only to help calm anxiety I’m experiencing, but to help my clients calm their anxieties and worries too.
With these questions I’ve discovered that anxiety becomes more manageable because you limit your options in dealing with it.
I first learned the questions during a class I had to take when I was completing my clinical counseling license. Not only do I love their simplicity and basic wisdom, but I also find them relatable to almost any type of situational anxiety or worry.
The professor stressed that when you set boundaries on how you respond to situational anxiety, you immediately increase your chances of feeling calmer. Her larger message was: You really only have three choices, and being in a place of choice in and of itself has the potential to calm you.
Of course, not all anxiety is situational. For some of us, anxiety stems from trauma or early life experiences. Or it seems to be almost hardwired in. Yet even when that’s the case, so many situations, particularly these days, can worsen anxiety of any type.
Just consider for a moment the power of any of these things to rattle you: relationships, health concerns, politics, work, finances.
So no matter what you’re dealing with, these questions can help.
Question #1 to calm anxiety: Can I change this?
When you ask yourself this, you begin to move away from feeling powerless. And you move toward feeling empowered about the situation. Often, just asking the question will begin to calm anxiety because you open yourself up to the possibility that you have some control here.
As you explore this question, you’re very likely to discover that in order to change the situation in an external way, you’ll have to reflect on what you want to be different about it. And then, you’ll have to do something to get that need met.
Often, that something will be a request of another person. And this is important for all of us to remember: It’s okay to ask for your needs to be met. While it’s true that there’s no guarantee your request will be honored, you always have a right to ask.
Sometimes you’ll find there’s no way to change the situation externally, but you can change it internally. Perhaps you can change your perception of the situation or your timeline for dealing with it.
While this is a wonderful question to explore, there is a catch to it: you might stay too long in it, trying to change something that you really have no control over. When that happens it’s time to move on to the next question.
Question #2 to calm anxiety: Can I accept this?
When you can’t calm anxiety by trying to change the situation, your next option is to explore acceptance. And yes, acceptance is hard. Let’s get that out of the way immediately.
Here’s a thought that might make it easier though: acceptance doesn’t mean you approve of the situation or agree with it. It just means that for now you’re choosing to sit with it. You’re choosing to internalize and embody an attitude of It Is What It Is.
Not only can acceptance help you calm anxiety in the moment, it can also help you create a practice that will serve you well as you encounter the ongoing bumps on the road of life. It’s a practice that gets you centered and grounded, no matter what.
My favorite way to introduce the practice of acceptance is through the work of Marsha Linehan and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). It was originally developed for clients with Borderline Personality Disorder. But over the years it’s been found to be helpful for so much more. If you’re interested, just google “Radical Acceptance” and you’ll find a ton of information and activities.
Another benefit of practicing acceptance is it can buy you time to figure out what you really want to do about the situation. Which brings us to the final question that can help you calm anxiety.
Question #3 to calm anxiety: Can I leave this?
For most of us, the decision to leave a situation that’s causing anxiety is complicated and difficult. And yet, knowing that it’s an option can begin to alleviate some of your worries.
By pulling it out and really looking at it you validate yourself. You name and claim for yourself that it’s okay to consider leaving no matter what anyone else says or thinks.
In my experience with clients, it probably won’t be your first choice. But putting it on the table as an option can be an act of self-care.
You take a stand for yourself when you ask, “Can I leave this marriage or job or city or whatever?”
While asking the question does have the power to calm anxiety, it can also bring up sadness and potential grief. Perhaps that’s why it’s last on the list.
But getting to those emotions that are underneath can bring a sense of release and relief. And for sure, it can be exactly what you need to explore before you take action.
So there you have it: three wise questions.
You might think of the first as being about making a request to get your needs met. The second about creating a practice. And the third about taking a definitive action.
Hope you find them as helpful as my clients and I have. And a big thanks to the professor who taught them to me, even though I can’t remember her name…I’m so glad I was in class that day!
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It is my great joy to offer counseling, therapy and life coaching to women. You can work with me in my Santa Rosa office, as well as by telephone/secure video if you’re outside the area. To schedule a free consultation, click here or call 707-742-9844.