{Big Ideas} The Five Questions I Ask Myself Daily to Ease My Anxiety

How I Ease My Anxiety | Pamela Price for RedWhiteandGrew.com
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For over two years, I’ve been integrating elements of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) into my life to address my anxiety. I’ve talked about that fact often in my private online salon, but not so much here at RWG.

As I have shared before, however, I’m a Graves disease patient in remission . Because my endocrinologist has emphasized time and again and that my managing emotional stress is vital for my health, I see this therapeutic “work” as a critical part of my health care.  To that end, I saw a therapist for years and went so far in 2015 as to buy a DBT-themed planner online. This journal helped me better track my own intentional DBT work.

Gradually, however, I’ve paired my DBT routine to a few central questions that I focus on because I find the answers help me target problem areas, places in my life where extra care and attention are called for stat.

With the acknowledgement that I am not a trained DBT counselor or a healthcare professional, I can tell you that considering these questions daily have prepared me better to manage things when panic and anxiety hit.

I’m also finding these techniques helpful for handling midlife hormone fluctuations, which are capable of kicking up my anxiety at all hours of the day.

Number 1: Do I feel capable of being kind? 

Let’s face it: we all have our moments of what a late friend used to call “snapping turtle syndrome.” Sometimes we have to apply a little emotional heat to bring about constructive change. Yet if we routinely let our dark moods, judgments, and general stubbornness take over–and lose touch with our kinder parts, then trouble can follow on many fronts. Kindness, too, extends to our relationship with ourselves, which is where I — as an over-anxious, hypercritical person — can be my own worst enemy.

It helps for me–when I feel emotionally untethered–to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and see if I can locate a sensation of kindness near my center being, to know if I have enough kindness  to offer up.

If I feel like my kindness tank is low–or non-existent, I practice a modified  H.A.L.T. check in, making sure first that I’m not actually (H)ungry, (A)ngry, (L)onely, or (T)ired. Addressing these four things usually works; however, I am noticing that, with age, hormonal swings can be an added obstacle and a real instigator of trouble.

If H.A.L.T. checking doesn’t do the trick, then I move toward a lovingkindness meditation or one of anger-reducing techniques I picked up from HeartMath Institute books years ago.

Number 2: Is my compassion well-calibrated?

Compassion is a step up from kindness, but it can also be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, compassion and empathy for others can motivate us to serve and help friends, family and strangers. On the other, we can become so over-whelmed with concerns — constantly triggered by social media posts and breaking news and GoFundMe requests — that we overdo it. This in turn can sabotage our best efforts to make the world a better place, and if it doesn’t render us ineffective then it can be outright exhausting.

I’ve found that, for me, a healthier approach includes checking in, recognizing any compassion fatigue, and practicing self-compassion and emotional regulation through activities like breath work or movement like walking or yoga. (H.A.L.T. and humor help me a ton as well.) I also have to be very, very careful about guarding against so-called “energy vampires,” people who will feed off of my good nature and willingness to help someone in need.

(Tip: Mutual respect and trust are key to good compassion calibration.)

"Mutual respect and trust are key to good compassion calibration." - a quote from an essay on anxiety by Pamela Price for RedWhiteandGrew.com.

Number 3: Am I making time today for rest?

That’s not just a question about my sleep situation, although enough shut eye is critical to well-being. Rest is also about unplugging from social media and the work grind and, for a few minutes, being nothing more than present. Restfulness, for me, is both a challenge (my brain never shuts up) and a real miracle cure because it never fails to help me refuel creatively. And storing up periods of rest for the weekend doesn’t work. I have to pace myself during the week.

Number 4: Where do I want my energy to flow?

Almost twenty years I created a personal planner system that resembles those now-trendy “bullet journals.” My system was central to how I managed to write two books while raising a kid and tending an elderly parent in the last decade. What I once thought was just a subset of my own executive function processing written out in longhand on paper and Post-It Notes, I now see as a way of directing where I want my energy to flow daily and weekly while still getting all the things that I need to get done done. Where in youth I once saw my energy as boundless, I now understand as a middle-aged woman that my energy is precious and deserves care and protection. The more even-keeled I am with my energy, the better able I am to handle when something sends me reeling with anxiety.

Number 5: Am I centered spiritually? 

As I’ve aged, my spiritual beliefs have shifted and morphed. Still, if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that contemplative prayer/meditation is central to my personal well-being.

Your personal mileage here, of course, may vary.

Whenever I feel lost and anxious and take time to ponder this last question, however, I usually notice that I’ve not been tending to my spiritual life. Maybe I need to count my proverbial blessings, jot down people and experiences for which I’m grateful, or make time to attend a religious service. Any and all of these things tend to help me refocus on what’s right and possible in the world.

That’s it — the five questions that I use to help me manage my anxiety. Is it a foolproof set of strategies? Ha! Noooo. Perfect? Nope, but then it doesn’t have to be.

It’s just what I’ve learned to do to take care of myself. And if you can find something useful here, then that’s great.

***

Explore More

• Longtime readers know my love of the “hedonic treadmill” hypothesis, which also helpful to me cognitively.

• My friend Jen Merrill of Laughing at Chaos just gave a great talk about self-care for parents of gifted kids at SENG. You can see it here.

Note: The rest of this section contains Amazon Affiliate Links for products mentioned above. I get a teeny-tiny kickback when you use these links, but you can also use them to discover the ISBN numbers if you’d like to seek out these books in your library or at another bookseller.

• My favorite DIY book on DBT is called The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook {Amazon Affiliate Link}.

• The planner I mentioned is called The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Wellness Planner {Amazon Affiliate Link}. It’s handy for tracking self-care but doesn’t have space for household, work, and project to-dos.

• Of the HeartMath Institute books, The HeartMath Solution is my favorite and the most accessible. {Amazon Affiliate Link}

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2 comments

  1. Great questions. I especially relate to “Where do I want my energy to flow”. With all the distractions, interruptions, and demands on our time, it’s easy to lose sight of what means most to us. I regularly try to avoid “energy suckers” like toxic people, political rants, shopping, and aimless internet surfing.

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