Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking Control of Your Life

When it feels like you’re spiraling out of control
By Ellen M. Diana, Ph.D.

Anxiety, generated by fear of the unknown, is a potent force that can keep you from reaching your goals. It can range from flutters in your stomach all the way to a full blown panic attack characterized by difficulty breathing, dizziness, and feelings of dread. Some anxiety keeps you safe by making you consider the consequences of your thoughts and actions. Anxiety becomes unhealthy when it interferes with your functioning at home, work, or in social settings.

To regain control, when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety, try these tips:

1.     Consider how often your thoughts take you out of the present by either ruminating about the past or feeling apprehensive about the future.

What percentage of time do you feel anxious and stressed versus calm and relaxed during your day? The more time you spend in the “present” the more time you will feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful, able to handle whatever is happening in your life.

This is because all the action in your life takes place in the present; the past has already occurred and the future is yet to come. So if you feel frozen by indecision and weighed down with anxiety, notice where your thoughts are taking you.

2.     Ground yourself in the present by tuning in to your senses:

You have five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. When you notice each of your senses, you are in the present, so tuning into them, one by one, if only for a minute each, you relieve your anxiety and ground yourself in the present.

Pick a sense and notice what you are experiencing through it. What do you see? Describe it in your mind or out loud if you can. For example, driving to work you might say,” I see a blue car in front of me with a woman driving. I see two children walking on the sidewalk, etc. “Just notice what you see. Now try it with your other senses? What do you hear? What are you touching? What do you taste? What are the smells around you?

This simple exercise creates a feeling of calm. You’ll notice that your breaths become longer and the tension in your body releases. For example, if you hold tension in your shoulders you’ll feel like they’ve dropped and the tension in them has released.

Try this sensory check-in whenever you need a little break from the inevitable stressors in your life. It works because you can’t be in two places at one time; you can’t be grounded in the present and also worried about the future.

Once you are grounded in the present, you can consider your situation and what is creating your anxiety. Then you can assess your resources, determine what needs to be done, and take steps to make it happen.

Ellen Diana is a psychologist, author of the Lucky Dreamer Tip Series, and co-author of the Charge up Your Life series of self-help books. She has 30 years’ experience working with children, adults, couples, and families in schools and in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. Helping women to evolve into their best selves through personal growth and self-awareness is a passion of hers. Ellen raised three successful children as a single parent and so has special interests in mentoring other women in transition and helping parents to raise resilient children. Contact Ellen at or through her website


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