By Michael Kimmel
It’s a new year. So what? What’s really going to change? Unless we take an active role in creating change, this new year will be pretty much like the last one.
How would you like to have a more confident/less anxious year? Sounds good, doesn’t it? But, how is that possible? That’s what this column is about.
As 2019 begins, you can begin to increase your confidence and comfort in your life as you chip away at your worries and fears. “How can I do this?” Never fear! Michael the psychotherapist is here!
Here are several techniques that I’ve used with my clients (and myself) for about 25 years now. They work! Please give them a try: you have nothing to lose but your anxiety, worry and fear.
Take a few minutes and write a list: “What I’m afraid of.” Put everything on it that you worry about. Get it out of your head and onto that phone screen/piece of paper. This step alone calms many people: you can more objectively look at the thoughts you’ve been scaring yourself with (probably for years).
Thought replacement: A big part of feeling anxious is anticipating something bad happening. You imagine a negative future outcome, over and over. So, let’s replace these fear-inducing thoughts with thoughts that are neutral or positive. Try this technique:
- Identify what you are repeatedly thinking that’s making you anxious. For example, “I am afraid my husband/wife is going to leave me.” Write it down.
- Imagine a huge STOP sign appearing in front of you as you decide to STOP thinking that worry-creating thought.
- Replace that negative thought with a related neutral or positive thought, e.g., “I know my wife loves me” or “My husband has given me no reason to think he’ll leave me”.
- Every time the worry thought (step one) comes up, do steps two and three.
That’s it! It’s simple. The challenge is doing it consistently so that the worry thoughts (step one) are eventually replaced by the neutral/positive thoughts (step three).
Make sure that you write this down. Create two columns: put the worry thoughts (step one) in the first column and the corresponding replacement thoughts (step three) in the second column.
Most of us have the same worry thoughts over and over. We feel powerless to do anything about them, allowing them to invade our thoughts and dreams. Using this thought-replacement technique will shift that. Using it over time can actually eliminate the worry thoughts.
Anxiety-reducing breathing: In this technique, you take in air through your nose, pause and then exhale as if you’re breathing out through a straw. Here are the steps:
- Breathe a full breath in through your nose.
- Hold it for 4 seconds
- Slowly breathe out through puckered lips (as if you’re blowing through a straw)
That’s it! It sounds weird, but, damn, it works! Thanks to the late Mac Eaton (a wonderful colleague and friend) who turned me onto this.
Another anxiety-reducing breathing technique is alternative nostril breathing, which is a part of most yoga instruction programs. It’s much easier to do if you have a video to watch, so go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxEqooqgCEs and follow the steps. (I was going to explain it here, but it’s difficult to follow without visuals).
I have been doing these two kinds of breathing for years now and they really work. As with anything new, it feels a bit odd at the beginning. But, do either one of them (or both) a few times and soon you’ll be able to do them quickly and easily. You don’t need any props for either technique and – be using them – in only a few minutes, you’ll feel less anxious and more confident. Let your body help to calm your mind.
In conclusion: We all worry about life’s constant challenges, that’s normal. But, when worry and anxiety interferes with your life, your sleep and your peace of mind, then it’s a problem. The good news: you can do something – in fact, a lot of things – to make 2019 more confident and less anxious. Please give these techniques a try and see if your new year isn’t a whole lot better.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.