To this end, I suggest taking several days to simply observe your anxiety. During this assessment phase, don’t work toward making any specific changes. Simply notice. Allow yourself all your usual responses and watch how they each play out. Discern the behaviors you use to discharge or ease your agitation, as well as their effectiveness. Ask for feedback from others who know you well. It may be helpful to keep a mood journal, tracking each day’s observations.
Some particulars to note are:
- Physical cues. Be aware of the ways in which your body reacts. Does stress appear in the form of muscle tension, knots in your stomach, jumpy legs, hand twitching? Is your breathing shallow, quick, incomplete?
- Behavioral responses. Notice what behaviors you engage in. Do you fiddle with clothing or other objects when anxious? Do you talk more or withdraw? Do you become easily irritated and discharge your anxiety through anger? Do you eat more or less, use mood altering substances, zone out in front of the TV? Do these responses actually ease tension overall?
- Speech. Listen for evidence of an agitated or obsessive approach within the words you choose . Do you find yourself frequently beginning sentences with words such as, ‘I worry that...’? Do you find yourself often quoting Murphy’s Law and demonstrating in your speech that you expect problems to occur? Do you let loose with an expletive when you spill or drop something, or when things are not going as you think they ought?
- Mental Focus. Watch your thoughts. Do you play out specific scenarios, rehearsing future trials or replaying previous ones? Are you hyperaware of potential difficulties? Is energy wasted figuring out solutions for problems that have yet to occur--and likely won’t? Do you listen well to others and give your full attention to your activities, or is your mind repeatedly pulled back to upset?
- Psychological and spiritual perspectives. Become conscious of how a likely unconscious outlook colors your experience. What are your expectations of life, of this day before you? Do you have an approach that makes living more of a project or chore than an unfolding process? How much do you secretly believe that nothing can be done to decrease your stress level or improve your experience of life? Do you view life as a bitch or a beach? Review the psychological and spiritual components of anxiety detailed in Worry, Part II, and see which ones apply to you.
- Situational factors. Notice how you are affected by external realities. Are there certain situations in which you tighten up? Certain people who bring out this response? Is your anxiety affected by being hungry, rushed, tired, or overworked?
- External demands: Size up the realities of your stress. How urgent are the current claims on your energy? Are these real and unavoidable? Would someone looking in on your life from the outside agree that these demands cannot be minimized or managed a bit more effectively?
- Scheduling: Observe your use of time. How much of each day is spent in soothing activities? Do you make specific choices to care for yourself, or does self-care come only after everything on your to-do list is finished (that is, never!)? Do you unconsciously follow the desires of those around you in this way, adopting a passive approach to your own life?