Why Making ‘Friends’ With Your Anxiety By Giving It an *Actual* Name Can Be Helpful
For those who experience anxiety, the idea of making ‘friends’ with that feeling might seem impossible. And that’s completely understandable given the complexity of anxiety. While there’s no one way to treat it, there are a number of strategies you can employ to help manage your anxiety and making it a friend could prove helpful.
To do this, you begin by naming your anxiety. You literally give it a name and an identity. Your anxiety might be a grumpy guy called Steve or a negative woman who goes by Sarah — whatever floats your boat. According to Healthline, “naming anxiety and giving it a personality is a reminder that you don’t have to identify with it. While anxiety may be a part of the programming of your nervous system, it doesn’t define who you are.”
As writer Crystal Hoshaw wrote for Healthline, giving a name to her anxiety helps her manage the feelings when they arise. “Whenever I find myself in a situation where anxious thoughts start taking over, I remind myself that all is well. It’s just Nancy coming for a visit,” Hoshaw wrote.
“Instead of identifying with the thoughts, this silly, imaginary mechanism allows me to distance myself from the anxious thinking and to identify the pattern playing out, instead.”
When anxious feelings arise, Hoshaw chooses to have a conversation with Nancy as a coping mechanism. For example, if she makes a mistake at work and automatically thinks “I’m going to get fired”, Hoshaw reframes this by thinking: “Hey Nance, welcome back! I see you noticed I messed up on that work assignment today. I appreciate you popping in to check on me. The thing is, in reality, that mistake was a lot more minor than you think. I’ve done some great work recently, too, so don’t worry about it!”
While this strategy won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it does a few important things to help cope with anxiety. Firstly, it allows you to create a bit of distance and perspective from these feelings. In fact, research shows that naming these emotions can help you manage and control anxiety.
“Simply translating your emotional experience into language powerfully changes your experience of it,” psychologist Dr Alicia Clark wrote for Psychology Today. “Enact curiosity, and name your feelings to get control of them.”
Engaging in this method also helps to engage your mind in something more constructive than an anxious loop of thoughts. For many people, anxiety creates unhelpful thought patterns that often have little bearing on reality and by naming these feelings and engaging creatively with them, it can help prevent you from becoming bogged down in them.
As Hoshaw points out, it also injects a little humour into the situation. While anxiety is far from funny, some people find it helpful to create some lightness around it. In fact, research shows that laughter can reduce systolic blood pressure, lower your heart rate and reduce stress hormones.
A study from 2018 found that laughter can actually activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps trigger the rest and digest response in your body. Researchers also found that simply hearing laughter can also have a relaxing effect!
While putting a human name to your anxiety might feel silly or daunting even, it might prove to be a helpful addition to your existing coping mechanisms, so the next time Steve rears his unwanted head, you can distance yourself accordingly.