Turning The Tables on Anxiety

David Masters

A 2014 study found that reappraising anxiety as excitement helped people with performance anxiety more than merely focusing on “staying calm.” Another study from 2010 shows that emotional regulation, another term for cognitive reappraisal, can help reduce symptoms of depression.

While cognitive reappraisal has been extensively studied with conditions like clinical anxiety and depression, the same principle could hold true for everyday stress, says Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, an Annapolis, MD-based therapist. How does it work? Rather than focusing on the negative emotion, Cush recommends “turning the table” with a simple mindfulness exercise. The first step: Pay attention to how you perceive your anxiety. If you view stressful emotions as the enemy, Cush says it’s likely you’ll try to outrun them — which can result in even more stress.

“remind yourself that you’ve felt this way before and that it will pass”

“People go to great lengths to avoid feeling or being anxious. Busyness, exercise, perfectionism, meditation, substance use and self-criticism, are just some of the strategies people use so they don’t have to deal with the anxiety. Ironically, it turns out that all the strategies we commonly use so we don’t feel our anxiety can actually make the anxious feelings more intense. As a result, you might even end up experiencing panic attacks,” Cush says.

“Instead of thinking about your anxiety as your enemy or as something that shows up to make you suffer, try thinking of your anxious feelings as a healthy reminder that something might need your attention,” she says. “Maybe you’re feeling sad or lonely. Maybe you’re struggling to meet your own emotional or physical needs. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake and be judged. No matter what is making you anxious — and the reason might not be clear — remind yourself that you’ve felt this way before and that it will pass.”

THE TESTING GROUND

Army Lt. Col. Phillip L. Pringle, a Southern Baptist chaplain says about his own personal experience with meditation: “The ‘Be Still and Know’ exercise works for me. It calms my soul, enhances my thinking, and improves my emotional regulation. I am thankful to be a more resilient chaplain.” The “Be Still and Know” exercise is the result of six decades of work and development by renowned stress expert Roy Masters.

Regarding “Be Still and Know,” Masters says the exercise is so effective simply because “it enables you to become objective, a little bit separate and disentangled from all your troublesome thoughts, emotions, heartaches, fears and traumatic memories – and that, all by itself, is extremely helpful, and actually healing.” Among the professional counselors who have long made use of the exercise is George M. Hayter, M.D., a Navy psychiatrist and lieutenant commander during the Vietnam War, and currently chief of psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, Calif. He concludes: “I must say, on the basis of 20 years experience, that the application of this technique has made a significant contribution to the treatment of the great majority of those people who have learned it.” Hayter, a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

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