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Strategies to add to your anxiety toolbox

Is anxiety holding you back? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 30% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, with women affected more than men.

These statistics represent those with specific anxiety disorders that can interfere with daily life, including work and school activities. But you don’t have to have a diagnosed disorder to experience occasional anxiety and notice it affecting your life.

Anxiety can show up in the areas of daily life you choose to avoid. It can also be there when you tell yourself you can’t do something, don’t want to do it, or that it doesn’t fit your schedule.

Those who struggle with anxiety sometimes do so because they see the world through a distorted lens, anticipating the worst outcomes for everyday events. That’s how Maria Holme describes her perspective.

“For me anxiety and being anxious is a feeling of being scared, being fragile, like free falling,” she said. “I was seeing things through a filter that is just really tough or sees doom first.”

The Seekonk resident and business owner got serious about working through her anxiety when she saw it affecting the life she had with her family, especially her young children. With help, she learned to recognize early signs of anxiety and developed a series of strategies to support herself.

Now she runs Your Next Step, a business she created to offer motivation and guidance to those who need help calming anxious thoughts and moving forward to reach their goals and create lightness in their lives.

She’s still an anxious person, Maria says, but it doesn’t stop her anymore. Here are some of the strategies she uses to calm herself and counteract her anxiety.

Learn to recognize early signs of anxiety

“I know for myself, if I start speaking really quickly or my shoulders are up to my ears,” that’s anxiety, Maria said. That’s when she needs to begin using some of the tools in her anxiety toolbox before it escalates into stronger feelings of fear or panic.

“I have different things I envision. I start with slowing my breath down. I slow my speech down,” she said.

Make time for whatever keeps you feeling strong and healthy

Maria is careful not to overbook her schedule. She allows time for the activities that support her well-being, or risks not responding to life the way she wants, she said.

“I know what works best for me is making sure I get a good night’s sleep, making sure I’m getting some exercise,” she said. “If I stack my schedule, if I push myself too much where I need to be on and accountable to others, I know I’m setting myself up for a crash.”

Look for small actions that calm you

“I do what I need to do in a situation before it turns into more,” Maria said, listing strategies she keeps ready in her toolbox like humming, pinching the skin between her index finger and thumb, deep breathing, and shoulder rolls.

Her toolbox also holds language she uses with others when her schedule gets too tight and she needs to say no to a request.

Anxiety can be overwhelming, but it can be eased by little things, she said. “I believe that even if we can ease our brains for 5 minutes, it’s just enough to kind of reset it.”

But everyone is different and finding the right strategies starts with noticing what works for you. Maria recommends personalizing your toolbox, visualizing it including what color it is, or finding a photo of one and pinning it up somewhere you can see it to help remind you of the tools you have.

Keep track of your successes

After overcoming her fear of flying and traveling to Bermuda to celebrate her wedding anniversary, Maria had the word ‘Yes’ tattooed on her wrist next to an image of a lotus flower. It’s her reminder of what she can do, she said.

“I am saying yes to life and no to fear, no to anxiety. It’s my constant reminder,” she said. “I think we all need reminders of things that get us through the moments that feel very, very difficult.”

Practice random acts of kindness

Sometimes the best remedy for anxiety is to stop focusing on yourself, according to Maria.

In those times, she writes letters to friends or leaves encouraging post-it notes in stores to brighten people’s day.

It’s also one of the reasons she created, Your Next Step, to offer the kind of help she once needed to others.

“I want to be able to say to people, ‘Let’s just chat. Let me walk you through this,” she said.

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