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I’ve gotten pretty comfortable talking and writing about my anxiety.
It hasn’t always been this way.
I used to be terrified to let anyone know how anxious I was.
It’s probably because that’s how I was raised by this American, individualistic, masculine society.
But hiding my anxiety led to more anxiety.
And talking about it has created a release valve.
It’s allowed me to be more open, more honest, and more relaxed.
But surprise, surprise! It hasn’t removed all of my anxiety.
So I’ve continued to work on it.
And this technique has really helped.
Learning My Anxiety Locations
I learned about my anxiety locations.
Before I describe the technique, let’s discuss what I mean by “anxiety locations.” An anxiety location, for me, is any place that I frequently get particularly anxious. And it’s important to add that it’s not just the location, but the context of that location that matters as well.
Here’s what I mean.
One of my anxiety locations is my home at night. But it’s not just my home at night. It’s being home by myself at night. It’s being home by myself in the late hours of the night. This tends to be the time and place where my weaving thoughts sprout more thought tendrils. If I’m not careful, this can create a runaway thought snowball. Snowballs are fun and all, but only if I’m outside and actually dealing with snow. When it’s a thought snowball in my mind, that’s where the trouble begins.
What to Do With an Anxiety Location
So there you have it. That’s one of my anxiety locations. So what? you might be asking.
Well, this is the what.
Once you know the location where your anxiety spikes, then you can do something about it. It’s only after an issue has been brought to awareness that it can be resolved.
I’ll walk through two different scenarios.
Scenario 1: My thoughts get the best of me, and I pick at my skin
I’m still a bit ashamed to admit this, but when it’s night and I’m all alone and I’m worrying about the world, I have a tendency to pick at my skin. It’s something that started when I was in middle school. It’s an obsessive-compulsive symptom that I have. I know that now. But still, it happens.
Doing this almost makes me disconnect from my mind. Before I know it, I’m wandering to a mirror and picking at my skin. Why am I sharing this with you? To let you know that it happens to more people than you think. To learn more about this reality, visit the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.
This is what happens — not as much anymore, but it happens — when I let my thoughts get the best of me. I move into a mindless pattern of negative thinking and self-doubt.
Scenario 2: I use self-awareness to remind myself that it’s just anxiety
But there’s another way. And it starts with being mindful of my anxiety locations.
When I’m mindful of an anxiety location, I can be prepared. I can know in advance that I might have trouble, and I can have a clear plan for how I want to use my time.
I think one of the big issues with being alone at night, is that I’m tired, and my willpower is down at that point. Quite simply, it’s been exhausted from a day of work and energy-emitting. Also, with no one else around, I’m not as self-conscious of how I look to others. So I pick at my skin or do something else that is destructive. This can be a bad habit trap, as I’m sure you know.
But by being mindful, by knowing I’m in a problem context, I can take action. I can choose to occupy my time. I can tell myself, “This is anxiety. This is OCD. This is not who I am.” Simply announcing it, whether internally or out loud, is often enough to stop the snowball before it starts.
But if that doesn’t work, I also do this.
I remember that I have coping skills. I can breathe deeply 5 times. Taking deep breaths changes your physical and mental state. Everyone can do this, but it’s hard to remember to do it. That’s where the awareness piece of this comes in.
I might also change my position. If I know that I tend to get anxious sitting on a certain part of the couch at night, then I’ll move to another area to sit. It’s amazing what changing your physical location can do for your mental state. I’ve found that mixing up where I sit actually changes my mental patterns. It doesn’t allow any one pattern to become too deeply ingrained in my brain, which is key.
Anxiety Locations are a Big Part of the Battle
Like any mental health topic I write about, knowing one technique is not going to completely overhaul your life in 5 minutes. But this one technique is a huge help for me.
- Identify the location
- Identify the context, including time, feelings, alone or not, etc.
- Identify what you can do differently
I hope this helps you with your anxiety as much as it helps me.
If it does, please let me know.
We learn about our mental health through the stories we share.