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Three Quick Tips for Anxiety & Ruminations

One thing that I spend a lot of time on with clients is anxiety...

Anxiety shows up in a bunch of different ways, but frequently I hear about it impacting clients in the form of ruminations or cyclical thinking. Ruminations are intended to decrease anxiety by helping a person gain control over a situation, but generally leave people feeling more anxious for a longer amount of time. Our brains on anxiety LOVE to focus on possibility. What if another car runs a red light? What if my hands have Covid on them? What if I accidentally hurt my child? What if, what if, what if...

Here are three tips I have for anxious ruminations: talk to yourself about possibility vs probability, focus on "what is" vs "what ifs" and to recognize the ruminations and say "next question" instead of indulging in the cycle.

Talk to yourself about the idea of probability vs possibility. Is what you are concerned about probable or possible? Most things are possible. Just because something is a possibility, does not make it probable. In fact, most of the things that we spend a lot of time ruminating on, especially if we are going down the rabbit hole, are very unlikely to actually play out in the way that we imagine. So ask yourself - is this probable or possible? If it's not probable, it's likely not worth your time in rumination. How many possibilities would it take for you to get to the place you're most concerned about?

Focus on the "what is" vs "what ifs". Can you ground yourself in the present moment? Think about and focus on "what is" rather than "what if." This simple trick is a practice to maintain, just like yoga or meditation, but can do wonders for keeping people thinking about how they are doing rather than how they could be doing. It's the practice of mindfulness. Keep yourself in the now and when you inevitably catch yourself drifting off to the "what ifs" calmly and kindly bring yourself back to "what is."

If all else fails, "next question..." If you find yourself perpetually talking through scenarios and "what iffing" all day, one way to stop rumination is to hear the question and respond with "next question." You do not need to indulge the ruminations... in fact, indulging in them seems to make anxiety last longer. Recognize the feeling, label it and understand that ruminating is a pattern that you have learned to relieve anxiety, but that it actually doesn't work and it isn't helping you.

Anxiety can be really uncomfortable for people. Talk therapy is effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, so if these tricks aren't working it may be time to talk to a professional. Anxiety can manifest in all sorts of ways, but one way to start thinking about how it impacts you is by asking "what is anxiety keeping me from doing?"


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