How Can I Keep My Anxiety About One Thing From Affecting Other Things?

This week in the Coping newsletter: A simple strategy for quarantining your worries, how to deal with family over the holidays, and advice for enjoying vacation even while anxious.

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Dec 23 2018, 3:22pm

Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia

Welcome to Coping, Episode Fifteen.

I've always found it difficult to have an amazing time on vacation. There's something in the combination of knowing I'm dropping a bunch of money, having a limited number of days in which to have an optimal experience, and dealing with the process of getting there—including flight delays and lost luggage—that can make it feel kind of impossible to fully enjoy.

Even people who don’t deal with anxiety the way I do can struggle to enjoy vacation, or develop vacation depression. So what about those of us with mental illness? Vacation is both a disruption in routine and a command to enjoy every moment; a combination that rarely goes well with something like an anxiety disorder. Yet studies tell us that using vacation days is good for mental and physical health. So rather than give up on them, there must be a way to holiday without creating more mental distress.

Keep reading: Tonic staff writer Shayla Love describes what's worked for her as an anxious person on vacation here.

Q: When I'm anxious about something, how can I focus on what I'm actually upset about and not the other extra things that my mind tries to grip onto?

A: I have a simple strategy for this that tends to work wonders with clients. Start with a friend, and then you can do it yourself once you know how it goes.

When a worry or anxious thought begins taking hold, share it with a friend, along with the feeling you're having. Have them ONLY ask you the question: "Why?"

Ex. I'm worried that my friend is mad at me.

"Why?"
"Because she hasn't talked to me in a week and that is unlike us. It's making me anxious."
"Why?"
"Because she's important to me and I don't want her to be upset with me."
"Why?"
"Well I of course don't want someone upset with me. Nobody does."
"Why?"
"Because the friendship might end over nothing, and I would hate to lose her."
"Why?"
"Because I've lost other people in my life and that is the worst feeling."
"Why?"
"Because I start to feel like I might end up alone if I don't do everything right."

This is somewhat of a "perfect" scenario, but incredibly common. Try it right now with yourself or a friend, and see how far you get. You'll either

a) realize the root goes deeper than the "extra things" your mind joins in on

or

b) you'll realize it's something very simple that need not cause anxiety or take more of your precious time, and you'll be able to move on more quickly.

If a), try to focus your attention on that deeper worry. This can be done in therapy, or as a process of noticing: "Does this random worry have anything to do with my fear of being alone?" Self-reflection is an incredibly powerful skill that can change the way you think and behave. We could use more introspection in the world.

Wishing you some "Aha" moments from afar. 🧞‍♀️

Michelle Lozano is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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Happy holidays, everyone.

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