People often come to me for support in dealing with anxiety. Anxiety is no fun. It tends to take over, leaving people jangled, stressed, and on edge. If I dig a little deeper, I often find that the anxiety has been part of my client’s life for quite some time, even going back to childhood.

What’s going on?

Anxiety actually serves a purpose. As a form of fear, it serves to keep us alert for danger. Perhaps as a child, your needs weren’t met as they should have been, ranging from inconsistent parenting to emotional or physical abuse. Perhaps you needed to be on the defense for self-protection, and grew adept at constantly scanning the environment and being alert for the slightest sign of danger. We carry these same patterns of being into adulthood, not realizing that they may no longer be serving us.

Or maybe you were always the worry wart of the family due to inherited temperament. Just remember – anxiety is a survival mechanism going back generations and generations. Without anxiety from someone in the clan to alert everyone to the mountain lion or marauding invader, the clan would probably not be alive and its genes passed on all the way to you. Your anxiety genes have served a great purpose – that is, keeping us alive. The thing is, that mountain lion or marauding invader is not actually poised to kill you right now.

Whatever the cause of your anxiety, try this the next time you experience it — ask yourself the simple question “Am I safe right now?” Then take an intentional look at what’s really going on with you. Are you safe right now? If the answer is yes, tell yourself that you are safe.* Say it to yourself over and over. Thoughts affect emotions. Emotions affect behavior. The three are inexorably linked. If your thoughts truly shift, you will feel better.

Shifting thoughts takes some practice but I encourage you to try this simple exercise the next time you experience anxiety.

There are many tools that those with anxiety can learn to utilize, from thought shifting, to self-soothing, to meditation, to medication. Examining your values and reasons for living can also be of help. If you suffer from anxiety and you can’t seem to get a handle on it – it seems to be overtaking your life – I urge you to talk about it with your primary care physician and to find a therapist for support. Anxiety CAN be managed, or at least made less debilitating. I wish you peace as you navigate your own personal journey into increased health and wellbeing.

*Of course, some people are NOT “safe right now.” If you are in a dangerous situation, please try to extricate yourself to safety. A crisis line (phone 211 in the United States) can help you with resources to do so, and for immediate assistance, please call 911.