By Mary Reitano
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Some holiday songs express a longing for peace in the world. However, you may also long for personal peace of mind. Entering into the new year, how can you overcome worry and anxiety to enjoy a calmer, more peaceful mood?
First, let’s explore differences between fear, worry and anxiety. Fear is an instinctual response to a recognized threat or danger—such as spotting a bear in your yard. Fear can be unpleasant, yet it protects by stimulating action. Worry may include repeated negative thoughts, images, and emotions caused by thinking how to avoid or solve anticipated problems. Anxiety includes tension, worried thoughts and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. People with anxiety may avoid worrisome situations. Sometimes chronic worry and anxiety are overwhelming.
What Causes Worry and Anxiety? Our thoughts can decrease or increase worry. Self-talk is what you say to yourself about a situation. For example, “catastrophizing” is automatically assuming the worst possible outcome. Thinking based on must’s and should’s can lead to distress. You may feel anxious if you believe current resources or support are inadequate to address a problem. Anxiety may increase by taking on the responsibilities of others. And trying to change people or circumstances outside your control often heightens distress. Also, some people’s nervous systems are easily stimulated, making them more vulnerable to physiological arousal from things like noise or chaotic environments. Worry habits may be learned from family and friends. Good news! They can be “unlearned”.
What Helps Overcome Worry and Anxiety? The goal is to reduce anxiety and worry, and also increase the opposite, positive qualities like peace, faith, calmness, and sense of security. Here are ways to do both. Calm down physical symptoms of anxiety with breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, slowing down, meditation, mindfulness, visualization of calm scenes, or peaceful music. Create relaxing environments such as a quiet place, basement retreat, or harmonious home. Minimize exposure to negative inputs like news programs or verbally-abusive people. Understand your prescriptions and take them as written. Certain medications heighten anxiety. Suddenly stopping other medicines can cause a “rebound” reaction that causes anxiety.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy promotes “thinking about thinking” and managing self-talk. We often believe other people and circumstances can directly upset us. However, we primarily upset ourselves by what we think about a situation. A good counselor can provide specific coaching about self-talk. Exercise good boundaries–say no sometimes. Know your limits and don’t assume others’ responsibilities. Create breathing room by not over-scheduling. Serenity means accepting what you cannot control. Other people do not have to change for us to realize peace of mind. Surround yourself with people you can count on. Maintain positive expectations that resources and solutions can be found. Live in accordance with your deeply-held values. Spiritual faith is a source of peace for many people.
“The life of inner peace, being harmonious and without stress, is the easiest type of existence.”
Norman Vincent Peale
Note: Let There Be Peace on Earth was written by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller.
Mary Reitano is a licensed Professional Counselor Associate practicing in Lake Lure, NC. Her focus is positive psychology with a holistic approach addressing emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health. She can be reached at 704-858-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.