There are so many unexpected moments in life where one can experience an anxious moment: medical procedure, job interview, speaking engagement, landing a plane, tough client conflict resolution “opportunities,” a day without your loved one, to name a few. Anxiety is a BIG topic for many people. All of us experience anxiety moments sometimes and often it is in the oddest time. Note that I am referring to “Anxiety Moments,” not attacks and not disorders. I use the word “moments” because anxiety typically doesn’t stick around. It passes. And then it’s over. Most anxiety is perceived danger and is the body’s way of telling you that you are nervous, scared, or fearful. By using the acronym “I AM” (Identify, Acknowledge, Manage) with some power words, your anxiety moments can quickly dissipate. Let me explain with 2 quick stories.
I will never forget having the privilege to speak to approximately 800 military personnel in a large auditorium during their annual safety stand down event (for those of you who are nonmilitary, it is an ALL HANDS event -like everyone- HAS to be there from the new seamen all the way up to any Admirals in town). I was VERY, VERY pregnant and I was the special speaker for the sweet topic of (drum roll please) prevention of unwanted pregnancies, sexual misconduct, AND sexual assault (i.e. keep your horse in your barn, “no means no,” and stay together in foreign ports). You know the drill. You can only imagine how ridiculous it was for me, “the VERY pregnant one” to talk about sex to 800 (mostly men of all ages) in an atmosphere that they DID NOT want to be in. So, my only hope was to turn my speech into a comedy show. I mean, I had the belly (right?). “You too could be like me or have a pregnant girlfriend like me! And I am really not all that fun right now!” Well, I was actually pretty funny at the moment. But I WAS VERY NERVOUS and ANXIOUS. The thoughts going through my mind before my turn to speak were “What am I doing? How will I keep their attention on this very serious topic? Will they take me seriously?” So… it went fine. I lived and they laughed. I did not die. With the power tips I mention below, I managed to work through my anxiety and successfully complete my speaking engagement. Woot Woot! Another day for me, the daring pregnant one!
You may not have been in that exact situation, but I am sure that there are things that you have faced that have caused sweaty palms and shallow breathing and blurred vision. And if not and you are a cool cucumber, keep reading. You too can help someone whose “Anxious Alex” overtakes your friend’s body when they are faced with some perceived terrifying situation.
Sometimes in life, we need to soothe someone else besides ourselves and help them move forward with something they need to do. It could be something simple like taking a test, giving a speech, teaching your kid to drive, talking to a person in authority, or having a baby (that one is not simple), but you know what I mean. You will find people in all walks of life, of all ages, groups, seasons, ethnicities, and status who experience anxious moments. Standing or sitting alongside someone and helping them through a tough moment is… the essence of humanity. It is what we are called to do. So get good at it.
During the hot summer months, I help patrol a remote wilderness trail looking for hikers who are beginning to experience heat exhaustion. Now when they start the trail, they are so happy and refreshed. They are upright and skipping along with singing, “I’m fine. I don’t need more water.” But when they return from the waterfalls and begin to ascend up the “SANDS FROM HELL” in temperatures that reach well into 100-115 degrees or more, they are tired, hot, and dizzy. Their attitude changes. They begin to totally freak out. They think that they cannot make it back to their vehicle. The scene is real. They must believe me when I tell them that we will get through this. In this instance, the situation is dangerous. The body’s response to real danger or perceived danger is the same.
Whether you experience anxiety moments (remember most anxiety moments are perceived danger) or want to help someone move through their anxiety moment (whether perceived or real), review and remember the tips using the acronym “I AM _*insert a power word*_”
Pocket Power Tip #1
I: IDENTIFY: I am having an anxiety moment. Say, “Well, hello “Anxious Alex,” I see that you are here to overtake my body for a moment. Nice. I certainly notice the breathlessness, dry mouth, sweaty palms, and rapid heartbeat. No problem. I am going to wait it out because I know that this moment is NOT HERE TO STAY. You, my friend, are just passing through. I am basically okay. I am not in immediate danger. I am just a bit nervous or afraid. It is okay to feel this way.” Stop and identify that your body is concerned.
Pocket Power Tip #2:
A: ACKNOWLEDGE: Acknowledge your surroundings and be aware of the details and resources around you. Look or focus on something ahead of you. Remind yourself, “I am basically safe right now. My body is working. I am free to sit here and take a break OR move forward with my task.” You are in control.
When helping someone, have them notice something a distance away like a plant, artwork on the wall, or the song that is on the radio. Ask them open-ended questions unrelated to why they are anxious. Be still and talk about random things for a few moments. This method helps to slow down the racing thoughts, even out their breath, and calm their mind. Acknowledge what they are saying but do not argue about anything. Do not dismiss their anxious feelings. Nod. Hold their hand. Be their safe place. And remind them that they are safe. This moment is passing through and is not here to stay.
Pocket Power Tip #3:
M: MANAGE THE BREATH. There are many techniques to breath work. Controlled breathing calms your body and allows your beautiful brain to think clearly. And right now, your beautiful brain is in overdrive with thoughts of perceived danger or threats. By slowing your breath, you can IDENTIFY and ACKNOWLEDGE that your anxious moment is only here for a little while and you are CAPABLE to wait it out and when ready you are DETERMINED to move forward. Here are only 2 examples of managed breathing techniques. If you have another one that works for you, share it in the comments section so we can help each other.
The 4×4 BOX BREATH method is where you inhale (through your nose) to the count of 4, exhale (out your mouth) to the count of 4, inhale to 4, and exhale to 4, then repeat many times until you feel centered. This is easy to do anywhere at any time without anyone noticing. Definitely works. Easy to remember.
The HEALING BREATH method can be done with open or closed eyes. The person visualizes their breath as healing energy. Imagine your inhale breath (through your nose) entering your body from above your head, traveling into your head, moving down your throat, circling your heart, passing through your pelvis, and leaving through your feet into the ground. Notice during the inhale any tension in those areas that your breath traveled through. And then with your exhale breath (out of your mouth), travel backward through your body and grab all the tension areas you noticed before and carry them out of your body. Let them go. Let go of thoughts and feelings that really don’t need to be there. This method takes practice. And as you improve on your concentration you can add specific muscle contractions to help move tension out of your system. Not something I would teach to a stranger in the middle of an anxious moment, but it is something to learn and keep in your pocket. ? Message me for more details.
Pocket Power Tip #4
I AM “_insert your power word_” STRONG, CAPABLE, DETERMINED, FULL OF ENDURANCE, SMART, PREPARED, SKILLED, TRAINED, READY, FEARLESS, DEDICATED ….
Notice your strengths. What are you capable of that can bring you through this moment? You have succeeded before. What strengths helped you before? List your strengths: Capable, funny, kind, intelligent, focused, patient, witty, prepared, wise, seasoned, experienced, loving, smart, resourceful, determined…
Identify your strengths. Repeat your mantra over and over as you watch the anxious moment passing. Breathe deeply and re-create a new perspective of your abilities. Feel your beautiful body calming and re-centering. Be your own guide and lead yourself with the belief that you have what you need to walk through this anxious moment. Whether this is a perceived or a real threat or fear, you have what you need to do what you need to do. It is inside of you. Identify the anxious moment, acknowledge your surroundings and resources, manage your breath, and use your power words to finish the moment with forward movement.
I am capable. I am prepared. I am trained. I am smart. I can do this. I am lovable. I am resourceful. I am determined. I am good. I am patient. I am worthy. Those are the words I use to complete the tasks that sometimes seem overwhelming. Life can be overwhelming. Those are my power words. What are yours?