"School starts back up in t-minus 1 month, I wake up dreading it every single day. I find myself always coming back to the worry of my first day. How do I stop this cycle?"
- 19, F, NY
I'd be lying if I said I haven't been there before! Anticipatory anxiety - what is it? Anticipatory anxiety occurs when you feel fear or dread about an upcoming event, conversation, decision, etc. While it is not a mental health diagnosis in and of itself, it is considered more so to be a symptom of other mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Sounds bleak right? Well that is actually the opposite of the truth, anxiety is a very treatable mental health condition. With a little bit of intentionality, anxiety can be managed and even overcome.
A simple intervention is the Taming of the Monkey Mind. The Monkey Mind is a Buddhist concept meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious." It teaches us that our minds often act like monkeys; they are either jumping into the future or into the past. When they are anticipating the future, it is deemed to be anxiety. When they are ruminating over the past, it is deemed to be depression. So how do we tame the monkey mind? We do so by: 1) being aware of this concept, 2) identifying when we are beginning to "monkey around," and 3) grounding ourselves back into the present.
The number one way to do that is with the use of our most effective weapon: our breath. When you are launching into the future or feeling stuck in the past, come back to the present with your breathing. Bring yourself back to your body with one long inhale into your nose and one deep exhale out of your mouth.
Another effective breathing exercise is the 4-4-8 breathing exercise. Start by inhaling quietly through your nose for four counts of time. Make sure you fill your lungs completely to the point where you feel your abdomen is filled full of air like a balloon. Hold your breath for four counts. Then, through pursed lips, slowly exhale through your mouth making a whoosh sound for eight counts (cc Power Breath). Repeat this exercise a couple of times and anchor yourself back into the present. Just like with any other habit, practice makes perfect. Do this every time you find yourself monkeying around in your mind and watch your anxious voice quiet down over time.