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50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety -- page 7
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Initial cognitive training teaches the basic skills that help change irrational beliefs or inaccurate thinking.

Index to 50 Tools

Listen to 50 Tools


Initial Cognitive Training (cont.)

Suggestion 16: Develop Coping Statements

As you record in your cognitive diary you will find that certain statements you develop and use are particularly helpful for managing anxiety. These are referred to as “coping statements.” When you create coping statements, you want to write them down and have them with you as reminders in situations that create anxiety.

Coping statements can include anything that you find helpful. However, there are a couple of guidelines to creating better coping statements:

1) Keep them short. You want a statement that you can remember when you need it. If it is too long and involved, it is not very memorable. A short coping statement can convey a complex idea, but it does it in a few words.

2) Be realistic, not positive. People don't believe overly positive statements so they are not very effective. Using a coping statement such as “Everything will be okay” is not particularly calming while having a panic attack. However, a more realistic statement related to your ability to cope can be much more effective: “This is anxiety and I have tools to cope with it.” Or a statement recognizing that anxiety can't hurt you: “Anxiety is a normal process of the body and whatever is normal can't hurt me.”

3) Two-part statement. I usually recommend making coping statements into two parts. This isn't absolutely necessary but I think it makes the statement ideal to combine with your breathing. For instance, if a statement is “This is just an unpleasant feeling and I can handle it” then you can inhale while focusing on the first part of the statement and exhale while focusing on the second part. By combining the statement with your breathing, it becomes more effective in reducing anxiety.

Suggestion 17: Read Your Coping Statements.

Once you have developed coping statements, you need to use them. Frequently! Have your coping statements readily available. If there are certain times when you are more likely to get anxious such as when you are getting ready in the morning or when you are driving, post your statements where you can see them such as on your mirror or the steering wheel of your car.

At other times when you are not anxious, read your coping statements over and over so you are more likely to remember them when you need to. The cognitive diary in Excel At Life apps provides a simple way of doing this: either read the History section frequently or put your favorite statements on the main screen of the app. Some people have told me that just opening the app and reading the statements that appear on the main screen can be helpful. Whatever method you use, remember that reading your coping statements is a critical part of cognitive therapy. Repetition helps to change thinking. Reading the statements over and over provides you with the repetition that makes these statements more available to you when you need them. However, don't just read the words without thinking about them. Always focus on what the words mean to you.

Suggestion 18: Look for the Positive About Anxiety.

I know your first reaction is “There is nothing positive about anxiety!” However, many clients have told me at the end of therapy “I came to therapy just to get rid of the anxiety but I've found that therapy has made my life better in so many ways. If I didn't have the problem with anxiety, I wouldn't have learned what I did to improve my life overall.”

Whenever we confront a challenge we are likely to grow and improve in ways we didn't anticipate. If you follow these suggestions, you are learning methods that can benefit all people even those without problems with anxiety. Using these methods can impact your life in many ways.

Changing your way of thinking about the anxiety provides you with a different perspective about life. People often believe that life should be easy, that problems are unfair, and that others don't seem to struggle as much as they do. However, people who are successful in various activities and aspects of life don't dwell on these thoughts. Instead, they confront problems, learn from the experience, and apply what they learn to other problems. The result is often greater success in life.

Looking for what anxiety can teach you takes your focus away from the negative and allows you the opportunity to discover unknown resources in yourself. Facing a challenge helps you to develop greater confidence in yourself regarding confronting other challenges. Taking a different perspective about anxiety diminishes the power of the anxiety and the effect upon your life.

Suggestion 19: Let Go of Control

Many people with anxiety tend to take too much responsibility for others and feel a need to control situations so as to prevent bad things from happening. For more information read: When the Need for Control Gets Out of Control. Also, the audio Excessive Responsibility and OCD can be useful. Although it was created to assist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, people with other types of anxiety disorders may find it helpful as well.

Primarily, the underlying issue with control is the belief that not only do you have the responsibility to make things okay but that you have the power to do so. Thus, we have two questions that need to be determined: 1) What does okay mean? and 2) Do you really have the ability to make things okay?

Too often I see people who define “okay” very restrictively. They believe they have to protect others from any potential harm including even having a “bad” feeling. They might be unable to express anger or other feelings because it might upset someone. As a result, it becomes impossible to resolve problems. As it relates to anxiety, they might define any level of anxiety as not okay. Yet, anxiety is an important part of our emotional system that lets us know when there are problems. We need to know how to listen to anxiety not get rid of it completely.

The second question regards how much power do you really have over life. You don't have the ability to make sure that problems never occur. You don't have the ability to make sure you and others never feel bad. Trying to eliminate all problems and feelings is artificial control. It can't be done. However, true control is knowing what you can realistically do about resolving problems.

So, letting go of control is about letting go of the artificial control. It means recognizing that you do not have the power to make everything in life okay. And if you don't have the power, you also don't have the responsibility.

Learn to recognize what is reasonably in your control and what is not. Then let go of the things that you cannot control. When you truly let go, a burden can be lifted from you. When you change this belief about over-responsibility, you reduce the stress that comes with it. READ MORE: page 8

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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